NATO is ready to up its presence in Kosovo and can put an end to any kind of tension as the deadline for all citizens to register their number plates with Pristina looms on 31 October.
The Kosovo government declared in June that all citizens must have number plates issued by their institutions, which also impacts several thousand ethnic Serbs in the north of the country who have Belgrade-issued plates as they do not recognise Kosovo’s sovereignty.
The decision is set to come into force on3 1 October. The last time the Kosovo government attempted to deal with the license plate issue, Serbs blocked roads, attacked police, and President Aleksander Vucic sent the military, including aircraft, to the border.
“We are alert and ready to act… if we have an increase in tensions, we can also increase the number of reserve forces… we can make this decision in a short time”, said the Deputy Commander of the NATO mission in Kosovo (KFOR), Luca Piperni to journalists on Tuesday.
“We have enough forces to face the situation. With many such troops, we can put an end to any type of tension”, said Piperni, referring to the troops outside Kosovo, which NATO can engage as reinforcements.
The decision was due to come into force earlier, but due to tensions and the intervention of internationals such as the EU and US, it was postponed for two months. During that time, no compromise has been sought, and Pristina intends to comply with the requirement for all citizens.
Piperni said that the is fragile but calm at the moment, however, NATO cannot rule out the possibility of new violence when the car registration deadline expires.
“If the situation worsens, we are ready to intervene; we are ready to be between the protesters and the security organisations,” he said.
The Serbian government claims the decision by Kosovo is an attempt to expel ethnic Serbs from the country but has not provided further information on how they think this will occur.
Vucic sad in August that the license plate issue is complicated and accused Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti of threatening Serbia.
“This means that he wants conflicts and continued problems…But it is different here and a more complicated situation with KS plates,” he said, adding that he and Serbia will fight and protect their people, hoping that “I hope no other issues appear.”
“I’m afraid that other things are coming and that someone wants to lead us into conflicts, and ours is to protect our position as long as we can and avoid it, but when we can’t anymore, you’re pushed against the wall, and you have nowhere to go,” said Vucic.
Kurti remains adamant that in the absence of full recognition of independence by Serbia, Kosovo will continue to implement reciprocity on all matters.