Kosovo calls on Serbia to reduce tensions and start dialogue
PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) – Ethnic Serbs blocked the border between Kosovo and Serbia for the third day in a row on Wednesday to protest the decision of the Kosovar authorities to start removing Serbian license plates from cars entering the country .
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti called on the Serbs to move vehicles away “because they are blocking”. Small groups of Serbs spent the night in tents and blocked the roads leading to the Jarinje and Brnjak border posts with trucks.
The recent incident has raised fears that it will spark much deeper tensions between the two Balkan neighbors.
Serbia, which does not recognize its former province of Kosovo as a separate nation, has for years removed license plates from cars registered in Kosovo entering Serbia. Drivers must pay five euros (almost $ 6) for a 60-day temporary license plate.
Serbia considers its border with Kosovo to be an “administrative” and temporary border.
Tensions rose on Monday when Kosovo special police with armored vehicles were dispatched to the border to impose the same rule of temporarily replacing Serbian license plates on cars while driving in Kosovo.
Kosovo authorities have said that a 2016 agreement with Serbia reached in talks mediated by the European Union has expired and that only official symbols of Kosovo are now valid.
“Our offer is very practical, let’s lift the temporary plates, in Serbia and in Kosovo,” Kurti said at the government meeting.
“Neither our state nor the citizens, nor the Serbs in Kosovo or Serbia are interested in the incidents and the escalation (of the tension),” Kurti said, accusing Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic of “being the only individual … interested in this. We are for dialogue.
Vucic said on Wednesday that there would be no European Union-mediated talks with Kosovo officials over the latest crisis until special Kosovo police units pull out of the border.
“They can organize whatever they want, I won’t accept anything,” Vucic said in Budapest, Hungary, where he is due to attend a summit of right-wing European leaders.
The EU has facilitated a dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia since 2011 and has helped negotiate more than 30 agreements, but few of them have been implemented.
The EU and the US urged Kosovo and Serbia to “immediately, without delay” show restraint and refrain from unilateral action.
In a tweet published on Wednesday, EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi urged Kosovo and Serbia “to exercise restraint and defuse tensions, resume dialogue and guarantee freedom of movement without delay.” Unilateral actions are never a solution. They only create unnecessary tension and should be removed.
Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani met with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in New York and urged the bloc that “efforts to strain and destabilize illegal structures backed by Serbia be brought to justice. EU “.
After the end of the bloody 1998-1999 crackdown by Serbian troops against Kosovo Albanian separatists after NATO intervention, Kosovo declared its independence in 2008. It was recognized by the United States and d other Western countries, but not by Serbia and its allies Russia and China.
Thousands of NATO-led peacekeepers, including US troops, remain deployed in Kosovo, trying to avoid lingering ethnic tensions between the majority of Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs.
Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.
Zenel Zhinipotoku and Llazar Semini, The Associated Press