Tensions rise on Serbia-Kosovo border, machine gun fire reported

Ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo blocked roads near two key border crossings with Serbia as tensions rose in the region a day before two Kosovar government regulations concerning Serbian-issued licence plates and ID documents come into force. According to reports machine gun fire was heard just over 10 km west of the Serbian and Kosovo borders.

The Kosovar government has stated that on August 1 travellers arriving from Serbia will have their Serbian-issued documents exchanged for new entry-exit identification documents issued by Pristina, valid for three months.

The policy matches a long-standing practice that Belgrade employs for Kosovo citizens visiting Serbia.

In addition, a new regulation regarding licence plates will also come into effect on August 1. Ethnic Serbs in the north of Kosovo have been using car plates issued by Serbian institutions since the war in 1999 with acronyms of Kosovo cities, such as KM (Kosovska Mitrovica), PR (Prishtina), or UR (Urosevac).

The government in Kosovo regards the plates as illegal but has tolerated them in four northern municipalities with Serb majorities.

Kosovo will now require those plates to be replaced by Kosovar-issued plates with the "RKS" acronym for Republic of Kosovo. Car owners will have until the end of September to make the changes.

Late on July 31, Kosovo police announced that they had closed border crossings in Jarinje and Brnjak for travel and vehicle circulation because of the blockades set up by protesters.

“All citizens are notified to use other border points for circulation,” Kosovar police said.

The dispute over vehicles erupted in September 2021 after Kosovar authorities ordered all drivers entering Kosovo from Serbia to use temporary, 60-day, printed licence plates in response to measures in Serbia against drivers from Kosovo that have been in place since 2008, when the country declared independence from Belgrade.

At that time, Serbs from northern Kosovo blocked the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings with vehicles and makeshift barricades, while Kosovo's government sent in police units and Serbian military jets and helicopters flew around the border area in a show of force.

Footage has surfaced on Twitter from the Serbian-Kosovo border region, in which sirens and machine gun fire can be heard. According to unconfirmed reports, the images come from the town of Novi Pazar, which is located just over 10 kilometres west of the Serbian and Kosovo borders.

Kosovan independence

Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s independence or its right to impose rules and regulations such as registering cars and trucks. Most EU countries recognise Kosovo, though Russia and China, allies of Serbia, do not.

The EU has tried to broker a dialogue between the two Balkan neighbours for over a decade, but so far the efforts have failed to achieve a normalisation of ties.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti has said Kosovo will formally apply to become a member of the European Union by the end of 2022 despite concerns over tensions with Serbia, also an EU aspirant.