Kosovo and Serbia step back from car plate crisis
The two-year-old disagreement over replacing Serbian plates highlights tension between the Kosovo authorities and a 50,000-strong ethnic-Serb minority in Kosovo’s north who consider themselves part of Serbia.
Around another 50,000 ethnic Serbs are scattered across Kosovo, maintaining close relations with Serbia but generally accepting Kosovo’s sovereignty.
The two countries had been on the “verge of conflict” earlier this week after Kosovo refused to compromise over the car plates. But EU and US pressure pushed Pristina back to negotiations and a compromise was agreed on Wednesday night.
Ethnic-Serb motorists faced fines if they drove with Serbian plates issued by Belgrade. This month about 600 ethnic Serb police officers, followed by judges, prosecutors and other civil servants, resigned over the issue.
After declaring independence in 2008, Kosovo introduced its own number plates but most ethnic Serbs in Kosovo refused to recognise the new state and continued using Serbian registration plates.
The Kosovo authorities said they would fine around 10,000 drivers and confiscate their cars after a deadline this week but Wednesday’s deal means drivers will not be penalised. In return, Belgrade will stop issuing Serbian plates to ethnic Serbs in Kosovo.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic hailed the fact that peace had been maintained.
“This is a small victory that will lead us into a more difficult situation,” he told the Belgrade media. “I know difficult times are ahead of us. I am happy that we managed to preserve peace for our people.”
Approximately 3,700 Nato peacekeepers are still based in Kosovo after the 1999 war with Serbia which allowed the former province to break away.
Washington put Prístina under heavy diplomatic pressure. “The US welcomes the agreement on measures to avoid further escalation of tensions,” said the US State Department. “The two parties took a giant step forward, with EU facilitation, towards assuring peace and stability throughout the region.”
The talks were led by the EU, although five member states, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain, do not recognise Kosovar independence.
Kosovo remains a divisive entity 23 years after the 1999 war. Picture credit: Wikimedia