Serbia and Kosovo reach impasse over car number plates and ID papers

'It was a crisis management meeting,' said the EU’s chief foreign affairs diplomat, Josep Borrell

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic will make "one of his most important speeches" regarding Kosovo on Friday, an aide said. EPA
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Crisis management talks over long-standing border and mutual recognition issues between Kosovo and Serbia have reached an impasse, the EU said on Thursday.

Bubbling tensions rose in the last month after attempts were made in Kosovo to change rules on identity documents and car number plates, but that was part of larger cross-border distrust.

“Unhappily, we did not get to an agreement today … But it is not the end of the story,” said the EU’s chief foreign affairs diplomat, Josep Borrell. “The discussion will resume in the coming days.”

Kosovo won independence from Serbia in 2008. However, Serbia legally still considers Kosovo an integral part of its territory.

Tensions soared when Kosovo declared that Serbian identity documents and vehicle licence plates, still used in the country’s north where there are Serb sympathies, would no longer be valid in Kosovo’s territory.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic took part in talks on Thursday hoping to defuse antagonism that has led to violent incidents in northern Kosovo.

In a sign of the seriousness of the impasse, an aide to Mr Vucic said the Serbian president would return to Belgrade on Friday to give “what will be one of his most important speeches” regarding Kosovo.

Serbian state media said Mr Vucic would on Sunday hold an “emergency meeting” in Belgrade with leaders of the Serbian minority in Kosovo

Mr Borrell did not elaborate on what obstacles held up the EU-mediated talks. However, he said Friday’s discussion was “not a normal meeting”. He expressed alarm at “increasing tensions in northern Kosovo”.

“It was a crisis management meeting. The purpose of this meeting was to calm down the situation on the ground,” he said.

A number of issues are aggravating the stand-off. Kosovo declared that Serbian identity documents and vehicle number plates would no longer be valid in Kosovo’s territory.

Minority Serbs, who live mostly in northern Kosovo, reacted angrily to that, putting up roadblocks, sounding air-raid sirens and firing guns.

Under apparent pressure from the West, Mr Kurti has postponed the enforcement of the measure to September 1.

Ethnic Serbs account for 5 per cent of Kosovo's 1.8 million population, which is 90 per cent ethnic Albanian. Most of the Serb population is in the north.

Updated: August 18, 2022, 6:28 PM
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