Tensions rise at Kosovo-Serbian border over license plates
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – Tensions rose on Kosovo’s border with Serbia on Monday as Kosovo deployed riot police as Serbs protested a decision by Kosovar authorities to start removing license plates Serbian cars entering the country.
Kosovo special police with armored vehicles were dispatched to the border as hundreds of Kosovo Serbs drove to the border in their cars and trucks, blocking the roads leading to the crossing points.
Serbian media reported that Kosovo police fired tear gas at protesters. The reports could not be independently verified.
Serbia does not recognize its former province of Kosovo as a separate state and regards the mutual border only as an “administrative” and temporary border.
Thousands of people have been killed and over a million have been left homeless after a bloody 1998-1999 crackdown by Serbian troops against Kosovo Albanian separatists. The war did not end until after NATO intervened. Kosovo then declared its independence in 2008. It has been recognized by the United States and 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.
Populist Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Kosovo Serbs “have suffered one of the worst days today” after what he called a “brutal attack” by the Kosovo police. He called on NATO troops to protect the Serbs.
“They think our patience is endless,” he told reporters in Belgrade. “We will know how to protect our country, there is no doubt. “
Vucic said the Serbian response would be “economic and political” and not by force.
For years, Serbian police have been removing license plates from Kosovo-registered cars entering Serbia, and the latest move by Kosovar authorities appears to be tit-for-tat action.
Kosovo officials said on Monday that license plates issued in Serbia will be replaced by temporary plates and that additional police have been deployed to implement the “reciprocity” action.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said Serbia was the first to impose temporary license plates. He added that the Kosovo decision does not limit freedom of movement and is not directed against the Serbs.
“We did not ask for the temporary license plates, but they were imposed by the other party,” he said. “As long as our citizens have to pay for the plates when they enter Serbia, they will also be used when entering Kosovo.”
European Commission spokesman Peter Stano urged Kosovo and Serbia to “immediately, without delay” show restraint and refrain from unilateral action.
“Freedom of movement is one of the cornerstones of the European Union and as such we expect Kosovo and Serbia to promote freedom of movement in the region,” he said. in Brussels.
The two sides agreed in talks mediated by the European Union in 2016 to allow free movement. However, Kosovo officials said the deal has expired and only the appropriate Kosovo symbols are now valid in the territory.
In Belgrade, Vucic called an emergency meeting of the state’s national security council on Tuesday as Kosovo Serb officials called for help from Belgrade.
Senior Kosovo Serb official Goran Rakic called the latest move a “direct threat” against Serbs living in Kosovo, saying they briefed EU ombudsperson Miroslav Lajcak and other international officials about new developments .
“This (protest) is a reaction from people who are worried about their future, their children and their families,” Rakic said.
Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, and Jovana Gec in Belgrade contributed to this report.
Dusan Stojanovic, The Associated Press