Kosovo defers new rules for entry from Serbia

'Reciprocal' measures over IDs and car licence plates sparked protests from ethnic Serb population

Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti said the country's new rules for arrivals from Serbia were similar to those imposed by Belgrade. Reuters
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Kosovo's government on Sunday postponed for a month the implementation of new border rules that led to tensions in the country's north, where ethnic Serbs blocked roads and gunmen shot at police.

Police closed two border crossings with Serbia on Sunday after the shooting by unidentified attackers. No one was injured

Kosovo proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008 but ethnic Serbs who make up the majority in the northern region do not recognise the authority of the government in Pristina.

They remain politically loyal to Serbia, which provides financial support.

The latest tensions came after Pristina said that from August 1, people entering Kosovo with Serbian identification documents would have to replace them with a temporary document during their stay in the country.

The government also said ethnic Serbs who have vehicle registration plates issued by Serbia would have to change them for Kosovo plates within two months.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Sunday that it was a reciprocal move since Belgrade requires the same from Kosovo citizens entering Serbia.

But, after meeting with US ambassador to Kosovo Jeffrey Hovenier, who told reporters he sought from Pristina that implementation of the new regime be postponed for 30 days, the government pledged to do so.

The government said in a statement it would postpone the implementation of the two decisions until September 1, seeking that “all barricades are removed and full freedom of movement is established” on Monday.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell hailed the decision and said he expected “all roadblocks to be removed immediately”.

On Sunday evening, hundreds of ethnic Serbs parked lorries, tankers and other heavy vehicles on roads towards the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings with Serbia, blocking traffic.

Large crowds of Serbs gathered around the barricades.

“The atmosphere has been brought to a boil,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Sunday, warning that “Serbia will win” if Serbs are attacked.

Mr Kurti accused him of igniting “unrest”.

Nato-led peacekeepers from the Kosovo Force mission said the security situation in Kosovo's north as tense.

Tensions in the region were raised in September when hundreds of ethnic Serbs staged daily protests and blocked the traffic at the two border crossings.

Their anger was triggered by Pristina's decision to require drivers with Serbian registration plates to put on temporary ones when entering Kosovo.

Those entering from Kosovo have to do the same in Serbia.

EU-led talks between Kosovo and Serbia since 2011 have failed to achieve any normalisation of ties.

Kosovo is already recognised by about 100 nations, including the US and most EU countries, but Serbia refuses to do so.

Updated: August 01, 2022, 6:44 AM