Kosovo is pushing ahead with the number plate system contested by the Serb community

Kosovo is pushing ahead with the number plate system contested by the Serb community

Kosovo, Serbia and NATO peacekeepers braced themselves for a fresh wave of ethnic tensions over the contentious license plate issue in the two countries on Thursday (September 1). Pristina has indeed decided to force around 50,000 citizens of the Serb community in northern Kosovo to change their number plates by the end of October.

Kosovo has taken a series of measures aimed at asserting its sovereignty and enforcing reciprocity with Belgrade after declaring independence in 2008 after a decades-long uprising against the repressive Serbian regime.

One of them is to require that all citizens of Kosovo have number plates issued by Pristina institutions. This decision has repercussions for the Serb-majority north, which refuses to recognize Kosovo’s institutions. This measure, as well as the requirement for additional documents for Serbs entering the country, should come into effect on September 1.

The EU has negotiated an agreement on identity documents upon entry and on the abolition of exit visas for citizens of both countries traveling to the other. However, the problem of license plates is not solved.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti has clarified that motorists have two months to change their number plates. This decision has been described as “neither more nor less as an expression of the exercise of sovereignty”.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Wednesday he did not believe an agreement with Kosovo on the issue was possible. “From September 1st (Kosovo) (…) will try to force Serbs to change license plates, (…). I don’t think they’re having much success.”he has told reporters.

Last year, the introduction of the car registration system sparked protests from northern Serbs supported by Belgrade, who live near Kosovo’s Serb border. Tensions flared again last month after Pristina announced the rule would come into effect on September 1. This decision prompted the Kosovo Serb community to set up roadblocks.

Tensions eased after Mr Kurti, under pressure from the United States and the European Union, agreed to delay implementation of the measure. The roadblocks were lifted under the supervision of NATO, which has some 3,700 peacekeepers stationed in Kosovo.

Serbia’s defense ministry, which refuses to recognize independent Kosovo and sees it as an integral part of Serbian territory, said on Wednesday it had stepped up training of some of its troops in garrisons near the Kosovo border.

“The training is conducted to maintain a high combat readiness of the deployed units and their ability to respond quickly if necessary, and to ensure peace and security along the administrative line.”‘ the ministry said.

However, General Ferenc Kajari, commander of the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, tried to allay fears of impending conflict by deploying peacekeeping forces spread across the region to deal with any contingencies of violence.

“We don’t even see any signs that a war is being prepared… Anyone who thinks responsibly should not speak of war”Mr Kajari, a Hungarian citizen, said in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday.

Negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia under the auspices of the European Union and US envoys have so far failed to resolve the issue. Nevertheless, last week Belgrade and Pristina reached an agreement on the use of personal identity documents.

Serbs make up 5% of Kosovo’s 1.8 million inhabitants. Serbia accuses Kosovo of violating the rights of this ethnic minority, an accusation Pristina has denied.

Kosovo is recognized by around 100 countries, including the United States and all but five EU members, but not by a number of other states, including Russia and China.

Reference: www.euractiv.fr

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