The European Union raises its concerns about the escalation of the dispute in Serbia and Kosovo over license plates | Politics news

The European Union’s foreign policy chief has warned of “escalation and violence” after emergency talks between Kosovo and Serbia failed to resolve their long-running dispute over license plates for cars used by Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority.

Amid rising tensions between the Balkan neighbors, the European Union’s high representative, Josep Borrell, invited Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti to Brussels for emergency talks on Monday.

Borrell said in a statement to the media after eight hours of fruitless discussions: “The two sides did not agree on a solution today.”

“I think there is an important responsibility on both sides of both leaders for the failure of the talks today and for any escalation and violence that may occur on the ground in the days that follow.”

This year Kosovo tried to ask the Serb minority to change its old car plates dating back to before 1999, when Kosovo was still part of Serbia, to fit Serbia’s earlier ban on Kosovo license plates.

Serbs in the northern part of the country have resisted, sometimes violently, but Kosovo said it would start issuing fines from Tuesday.

Late nights await us

Borrell said the EU proposal could have averted heightened tensions, but while Vucic accepted the proposal, Corti did not.

He added that he would inform EU member states of the two countries’ “lack of respect for their international legal obligations,” and warned that, given their obligation to join the bloc, they must act accordingly.

“I now expect Kosovo to immediately suspend further phases related to the re-registration of vehicles in northern Kosovo,” Borrell said, adding that he had asked Serbia to suspend the issuance of new license plates with abbreviated names for Kosovo’s cities.

Meanwhile, Corti blamed Borrell for focusing only on license plates instead of fully normalizing relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

“I am ready to return and speak on the basis of the same agenda: the final agreement on the full normalization of relations, which at the center has bilateral recognition, and other current issues of a different nature, such as the status of number plates,” Corti said. correspondents. “One cannot do without the other.”

But Vucic said the Kosovo leader was responsible for the failure of the meeting.

He warned that “sleepless nights await us.”

Kosovo Special Police stand as hundreds of Kosovo Serbs protest against the government's ban on entry to vehicles with Serbian registration plates in Järenje, Kosovo
This year, Kosovo tried to ask the Serb minority to change its old license plates, which date back to before 1999, when Kosovo was still part of Serbia. [File: Laura Hasani/Reuters]

NATO and the United States calls for calm

Hundreds of police officers, judges, prosecutors and other state workers from Kosovo’s Serb minority left their jobs this month after the government in Pristina ruled that local Serbs must eventually exchange license plates issued by municipal authorities for pro-Belgrade northern Kosovo Serbs, with Kosovo. of which the state.

NATO, which still has about 3,700 peacekeepers stationed in the former Serbian province to prevent violence between Albanians and Serbs, said on Monday that “escalation must be avoided.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted: “The time has come for responsibility and pragmatic solutions.”

The United States also called on both sides to exercise restraint.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington had joined the European Union “in calling on Kosovo to immediately suspend any planned measures that could escalate tensions, including imposing vehicle fines.”

The row over license plates has fueled tensions for nearly two years between Serbia and its former breakaway province, which declared independence in 2008 and is home to a Serbian minority in the north that Belgrade supports.

The declaration of independence came after a decade of war between ethnic Albanian fighters and Serb forces that left 13,000 people dead, most of them ethnic Albanians.

Serbia, backed by allies Russia and China, does not recognize its former province, but most Western countries do, including the United States.

Some 50,000 Serbs living there refuse to recognize the authority of Pristina and still see themselves as part of Serbia.

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