Kosovo’s government has postponed for a month the implementation of new border rules that sparked tensions in the north of the country where ethnic Serbs blocked roads and unknown gunmen fired on police.
Police closed two border crossings with Serbia on Sunday after the incident during which no one was injured, a police statement said.
Kosovo proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008 but ethnic Serbs who make up the majority in the northern region do not recognise Pristina’s authority. They remain politically loyal to Serbia which still provides financial support.
The latest tensions came after the government in Pristina said from Monday, people entering Kosovo with Serbian IDs 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 licence plates within two months.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Sunday it was a reciprocal move since the government in Belgrade requires the same from Kosovo citizens entering Serbia.
But, after meeting United States 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.
It 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.
Welcome Kosovo decision to move measures to 1 September. Expect all roadblocks to be removed immediately.
Open issues should be addressed through EU-facilitated Dialogue&focus on comprehensive normalisation of relations btwn Kosovo&Serbia, essential for their EU integration paths
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) July 31, 2022
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell hailed the decision and said on Twitter he expected “all roadblocks to be removed immediately”.
He added that open issues should be addressed through EU-facilitated dialogue and focus on comprehensive normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
On Sunday evening, hundreds of ethnic Serbs parked trucks, tankers and other heavy transport vehicles on roads towards the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings with Serbia, blocking traffic, an AFP correspondent said.
Large crowds of local Serbs gathered near the barricades with the intention to remain there.
“The atmosphere has been brought to a boil,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had said earlier in the day, warning that “Serbia will win” if Serbs are attacked.
Kurti accused Vucic of igniting “unrest”.
NATO-led peacekeepers from the KFOR mission in a statement labelled the security situation in Kosovo’s north as tense.
They said in a statement on Sunday that they were prepared to intervene “if stability is jeopardised”.
The region saw the last major tensions in September when hundreds of ethnic Serbs staged daily protests and blocked traffic at the two border crossings.
EU-led talks between Kosovo and Serbia launched in 2011 have so far failed to achieve any normalisation of ties.
Kosovo is already recognised by about 100 states, including the United States and most EU countries, but Serbia refuses to do so.