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22 Nov, 2022 07:38

Kosovo postpones fines for Serbian license plates

The decision was made at the request of the US ambassador, the breakaway region’s leader Albin Kurti says
Kosovo postpones fines for Serbian license plates

Kosovo has postponed plans to begin fining drivers with Serbian license plates for another two days amid concerns in the EU and the US that the move could trigger ethnic tensions.

The announcement followed the failure of emergency talks between Pristina and Belgrade late on Monday. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the negotiations, pointed out that the problem was Kosovo’s refusal to accept a proposal by Brussels aimed at resolving the deadlock.

Borrell said he had intelligence describing the situation on the border between Serbia and the breakaway province as being “on the edge of clashes.”

Early on Tuesday, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Twitter that he had granted a request from US Ambassador Jeff Hovenier for a 48-hour delay in the imposition of fines for “illegal” license plates. “I am happy to work with the US and the EU to find a solution during the next two days,” he wrote.

Shortly before Kurti’s announcement, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price pointed out that both Kosovo and Serbia “will need to make concessions to ensure that we do not jeopardize decades of hard-won peace in an already fragile region.” 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has insisted that the dispute wasn’t about the license plates themselves, but about Pristina’s failure to honor its agreements with Belgrade, waging a “hybrid war” against the remaining Serbs in northern Kosovo.

The recognition of Kosovo is “not Serbia’s policy,” Vucic reiterated on Monday. The US and many of its allies recognized the mainly Albanian-populated province as a sovereign state in 2008. However, Belgrade still considers Kosovo to be part of its territory, being backed in doing so by Russia, China and other countries.

The license plates have been a bone of contention between Belgrade and Pristina for almost two years now, with the Kosovo authorities already postponing the crackdown on several occasions.

According to Pristina’s plan, drivers who failed to switch from Serbian to Kosovo car plates will be fined €150 (around $154). But after the transition period ends in April 2023, they would have their vehicles seized.

Belgrade had earlier warned that the Serbian military would move in to protect the ethnic Serbs in Kosovo if they faced persecution. NATO, which has a contingent of 3,700 peacekeepers in the breakaway region, said it was ready to intervene if violence breaks out.