Serbia, Kosovo strike deal to end car plates dispute

Photo: Twitter/@abdylvehab

Serbia and Kosovo reached a deal on Wednesday to end a nearly two-year dispute over car licence plates in northern Kosovo, which the West had warned could trigger ethnic violence, the European Union’s foreign policy chief said.

“We have a deal,” Josep Borrell posted on Twitter after the agreement was reached in Brussels under EU mediation.

“Very pleased to announce that chief negotiators of Kosovo and Serbia under EU facilitation have agreed on measures to avoid further escalation and to fully concentrate on the proposal on normalisation of their relations,” he added.

Kosovo had planned to start issuing fines from Thursday to some 10,000 Serb drivers who continue to use Serbian-issued car licence plates.

A previous attempt on Monday failed when Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić could not reach a deal and Kosovo was forced to delay the start of fining the drivers for 48 hours after a U.S. request.

Serbia will stop issuing licence plates with Kosovo cities’ denominations and Kosovo will cease further actions related to re-registration of vehicles,” Mr Borrell wrote.

He also announced he will invite both parties in the coming days to discuss an EU proposal, supported also by France and Germany, that will allow the foes to normalise relations. Kosovo has attempted this year to require its Serb minority to change their old car plates that date before 1999 when Kosovo was still part of Serbia. Serbs in the northern part of the country have resisted, sometimes violently.

Around 50,000 ethnic Serbs who live there refuse to recognise Pristina’s authority and still consider themselves a part of Serbia.

Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani thanked Washington for the deal.

“Their support for the dialog process between Kosovo and Serbia is indispensable. Kosovo is grateful,” she wrote on Twitter. Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence is recognised by around 110 countries but not by Serbia, Russia, China and five EU member states. NATO still has some 3,700 peacekeepers on the ground to maintain the fragile peace.