Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) European Union officials warned Serbia and Kosovo not to return to past conflicts, urging the two sides to resolve the ongoing dispute over vehicle licence plates before next week.
The tensions in the former province of Serbia reignited in recent weeks over the Kosovo government’s decision to ban Serbia-issued licence plates for cars registered on its territory, prompting a wave of Serb resignations from Kosovo’s institutions and public services in northern Mitrovica region, including 10 lawmakers, 10 prosecutors and 576 police officers.
EU High Representative Josep Borrell warned on Monday that their absence has left police stations and courts unstaffed. “In this vacuum, the worst can happen,” Borrell said. “So both parties need to show more flexibility.”
The licence plate ban deemed some 6,300 licence plates to be illegal in Kosovo. The Kosovo police were instructed to merely warn the drivers that their plates are illegal until 21 November. After that date, they are to start issuing fines until 21 April, when all cars would be allowed to drive only with temporary local plates.
Edge of danger
“We cannot reach this date without having an agreement”, said Borrell, referring to the next week’s deadline. “Or we will be on the edge of a dangerous situation.” The EU foreign policy chief stressed that he stood ready to call a meeting of Serbia and Kosovo leaders to get an agreement ironed out in time.
“They are at a crossroads now. They have to decide which way they want to go. Towards the European Union, or towards the past,” said Borrell. He noted that the EU presented a proposal, which has to be discussed. “It is a good way out of this situation,” he said.
Borrell told reporters ahead of the foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels that Serbia and Kosovo kept him busy during the weekend in Paris, where leaders of both sides met separately with the High Representative on the margins of the Paris Peace Forum.
“We are unhappily on the edge of another crisis, and we have to get out of this crisis mode and look for a structural approach,” said Borrell. During the meetings in Paris, he urged both parties to engage constructively, show willingness to compromise and honour their commitments.
“With the war in Ukraine, Europe cannot have another conflict on its soil,” Borrell spokesman said after the Paris meetings. “It is the responsibility of the Parties to avoid this for the benefit of their own people, who stand to lose most if the current escalatory behaviour is not reversed.
Kosovo, a self-governed autonomous region within Serbia during former Yugoslavia, declared its independence from Serbia following a violent conflict in 2008, but Belgrade continues to consider it its own territory, despite its de facto independence.
Kosovo’s legal and diplomatic status remains precarious as not even all EU members have recognised it as a sovereign state. China refuses to recognise its independence in fear that supporting its unilateral independence precedent would enable its runaway province Taiwan to do the same.
Russia long supported Serbia’s stance in calling the unilateral declaration of independence illegal, but has resorted to citing its precedent at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to justify Crimea’s sham independence referendum in 2014, and its subsequent annexation by Russia.