Trucks block a road near the town of Zubin Potok Trucks block a road near the town of Zubin Potok 

Kosovo postpones border measures after violence

Kosovo's government has postponed for a month new border rules after clashes in the north of the country where ethnic Serbs blocked roads and gunmen fired on police.

By Stefan J. Bos 

Kosovo's government postponed controversial border measures after the NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo, known as KFOR, labeled the security situation in the north "as tense."

Under the new rules, people entering Kosovo with Serbian identity documents would have to replace them with a temporary document during their stay in the country.

Pristina also said that ethnic Serbs with vehicle registration plates issued by neighboring Serbia must change them for Kosovo license plates within two months.

Despite Serbia having the same requirements as Kosovo, the attempts to impose Pristina's authority in Northern Kosovo did not go well. Witnesses said shots were fired at police on Sunday, and several Albanians reported being assaulted and their cars attacked in the tense northern region.

Air raid sirens wailed for more than three hours in Mitrovica, a majority Serb town. And Serbs blocked roads near two border crossing points, using trucks, tankers, and other heavy transport vehicles.

Large crowds of local Serbs also gathered around the barricades intending to remain there. Police said they closed two border crossings with Serbia after the incident, during which no one was injured.

The clashes underscored long-simmering tensions in the region. Kosovo proclaimed independence from Serbia in 2008, but ethnic Serbs, who comprise the majority in the northern part, do not recognize Pristina's authority.

Serbian license plates

Some 50,000 Serbs living there still use license plates and documents issued by Serbian authorities, refusing to recognize Kosovo's central leadership. The Serbian community remains loyal to Serbia which still provides financial support.

However, there is concern within NATO and the European Union that their standoff could lead to a broader conflict between Kosovo and neighboring Serbia. That's why Kosovo's leadership said that after talking with U.S. and EU officials, it decided to postpone the documents requirement, which was due Monday, until 1 September.

Pristina also said it would give Serbs a transitional period of 60 days to get Kosovo license plates, a year after giving up trying to impose them due to similar protests.

Belgrade views Kosovo as its province and refuses to recognize its independence. Serbia's nationalist President Aleksandar Vucic said in remarks that the "atmosphere has been brought to a boil" and warned that in his words,  "Serbia will win" if Serbs are attacked in mainly Albanian Kosovo.

He said: "There is less and less readiness to hear our pleas. And my request today to everyone is to try to preserve the peace at almost any cost. So I am making one more attempt to ask everyone, once again, the Albanians, to come up to their senses. To ask the Serbs not to fall for provocations and not to do anything that could lead to conflict." President Vucic added: "I also ask the representatives of the powerful and big countries that have recognized Kosovo's independence to pay little attention to international law. To pay little attention to the reality on the ground. And not to allow their protégées to cause a conflict."

But Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti accused President Vucic of igniting "unrest." Those words reflected his remarks in an earlier interview. "We are progressing in the rule of law, fighting corruption and social and economic development despite the problems with Serbia. And that is why the president of Serbia is in panic," he said.

Both countries have held talks on membership of the European Union, but with tensions rising, there seems no appetite in Brussels to let them join the bloc anytime soon.

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02 August 2022, 17:09