European Union brokers deal to ease Kosovo-Serbia border tension
Serbia has removed barricades at two Kosovo-Serbian border crossings after an EU agreement to reduce tensions over vehicle registration plates.
During the sectarian dispute, Serbia sent fighter planes along the border with what it still regards as a breakaway Serb province.
The crossings were blocked by ethnic Serbs after the Kosovo authorities on September 20 ordered all vehicles crossing the border from Serbia to display printed 60-day plates.
Under the new regulation, motorists with Serbian plates must replace them with 60-day temporary Kosovo plates.
The temporary plates were placed on the windscreen and rear windows of Serbian vehicles, while the actual registration plates were covered.
Ethnic Serbs in Kosovo blocked two border crossings in the north of the country in protest and burned down a licence plate registration centre.
The Pristina government said the move was in response to Serb rules against drivers from Kosovo since 2008 when Kosovo formally declared independence from Serbia.
The Belgrade government does not recognise Kosovar independence or its vehicle registrations.
Serbs barricaded the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings, leading the Kosovar authorities to deploy the police. Serbian fighter jets and helicopters soon appeared over the border.
The European Union agreement arranged the removal of barricades and for the
Kosovar police to withdraw.
It said instead of removing licence plates and issuing temporary ones, both Serbia and Kosovo will use stickers over existing car plates, adding that this is a temporary fix until a permanent arrangement is agreed.
Nato troops (KFOR) based in Kosovo since the 1999 war will be deployed at the crossings for two weeks to reopen them to traffic.
KFOR consists of around 4,000 troops from 28 countries. It is led by Nato but is supported by the UN and EU. It aims to head off ethnic tensions between the Kosovo Albanian majority and ethnic-Serb minority and help Kosovo establish itself as an independent state.
The EU and US called for bilateral dialogue to continue to normalise relations. The two former Yugoslav neighbours have considerable cross-border commerce but ties remain strained.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who is touring the Balkans, welcomed the agreement between Kosovo and Serbia.
“It’s good for the whole region,” the former German defence minister said. “The dialogue now needs to continue.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he was “personally very happy” about the agreement that “preserves peace in the region”.
The Serb minority within Kosovo is a major obstacle in bilateral relations. Picture credit: Flickr