Dispute over licence plates triggers renewed tension between Balkan neighbours.
Serbia and Kosovo have reached an agreement to end a standoff at their shared border which was rooted in a dispute over vehicle licence plates, a European Union mediator has announced.
“We have a deal,” Miroslav Lajcek tweeted on Thursday. “After two days of intense negotiations, an agreement on de-escalation and the way forward has just been reached.”
The breakthrough came after Kosovo’s government last week deployed special police forces to the shared border to impose a new rule of removing Serb licence plates from cars coming into the country, saying that a 10-year deal had expired.
Pristina said they were replicating what Serbia had done for the past decade following Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence.
Protesting the new Kosovo rule, local Serbs blocked the border with trucks.
Serbia meanwhile deployed armoured vehicles, military jets and helicopters close to the frontier in an apparent show of force.
Von der Leyen welcomes deal
Under the accord negotiated in Brussels, NATO troops will replace the Kosovar police units on the border, which will withdraw from Saturday. That move will coincide with the lifting of the Serb blockades.
Both countries will place special stickers on car licence plates to remove national symbols and allow the free movement of citizens. This is a temporary measure, which will remain in place until a permanent solution is found, the accord says.
We have a deal! After two days of intense negotiations, an agreement on de-escalation and the way forward has just been reached. I thank Besnik Bislimi and Petar Petkovic for their readiness to negotiate and agree for the good of the people. pic.twitter.com/OuhuUWvuG0
— Miroslav Lajčák (@MiroslavLajcak) September 30, 2021
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who was touring the Balkan region, welcomed the deal.
“It’s good for the whole region,” she said. “The dialogue now needs to continue.”
NATO has had some 5,000 troops in Kosovo under a United Nations mandate since the end of the Serbian-Kosovar conflict in June 1999.
Ongoing recognition dispute
Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic played down hopes of any broader breakthrough in the wider recognition dispute between Serbia and Kosovo for now.
Serbia, supported by its allies Russia and China, does not recognise the statehood of its former province but most Western countries do, including the United States.
EU-mediated talks aimed at resolving the deadlock, one of Europe’s most intractable territorial disagreements, have so far failed to achieve normalised ties between Pristina and Belgrade.
“I think the agreement is fair for the citizens,” Vucic told reporters in Serbia, where he was hosting von der Leyen.
“I would like us to be able to find more lasting solutions. That would not include recognition of Kosovo,” he added.
Kosovo’s declaration of independence came a decade after a war between ethnic Albanian fighters and Serbian forces that killed 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians.