PRISTina, Kosovo (AP) — The Kosovo-Serbia border was blocked for the third day in a row by ethnic Serbs on Wednesday, protesting a decision by Kosovo authorities to remove Serbian license plates from cars entering the country.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti called on Serbs to move vehicles away “because they are stopping themselves.” Small groups of Serbs spent the night in tents and they blocked roads with trucks to cross the Zarinje and Brunjak border.
The recent incident has raised fears that it could lead to much deeper tensions between the two Balkan neighbours.
Serbia, which does not recognize its former province of Kosovo as a separate nation, has been removing registration plates from Kosovo-registered cars entering Serbia for years. Drivers must pay five euros (about $6) for a 60-day temporary license plate.
Serbia considers its border with Kosovo an “administrative” and temporary border.
Tensions escalated on Monday when the Kosovo Special Police with armored vehicles was sent to the border to enforce the same rule of temporarily replacing Serb license plates from cars while driving in Kosovo.
Kosovo officials said the 2016 agreement with Serbia in EU-mediated talks had ended and now only the official Kosovo emblem is valid.
“Our proposal is very practical, let’s remove the temporary plates in Serbia and Kosovo,” Kurti told the government meeting.
“Neither our state or citizens nor Kosovar Serbs or Serbia are interested in the events and escalation (of tension),” Kurti said, referring to Serb President Aleksandar Vucic as “only one person…”. Convicted. We are there for talks.”
Vucic on Tuesday described Kosovo’s car license plate decision as a “criminal action” and urged Pristina to withdraw all troops, “then we can go to Brussels and discuss everything and possibly can reach an agreement.”
The Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, backed by the European Union, began in 2011 and has already reached more than 30 agreements, but few of them have been implemented.
The European Union and the United States urged Kosovo and Serbia to exercise restraint “immediately, without delay” and to refrain from unilateral action.
Following the bloody 1998–1999 crackdown by Serbian troops against Kosovo Albanian separatists following NATO intervention, Kosovo declared independence in 2008. It has been recognized by the US and other Western countries, but not by Serbia and its allies Russia and China.
Thousands of NATO-led peacekeepers, including US troops, are still stationed in Kosovo, trying to quell ethnic tensions between the majority Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs.
Lazarus Seminy reported from Tirana, Albania.