The EU cannot ease the tense situation between Serbia and Kosovo

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top diplomat held eight hours of fruitless talks with the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo on Monday, blaming them for failing to resolve a dispute over vehicle registration numbers.

Amid rising tensions between the Balkan neighbors, EU High Representative Josep Borrell invited Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti to Brussels for extraordinary talks.

Borrell said after the meeting that the responsibility of both leaders was “urgent de-escalation”, but that both sides had “not shown a constructive attitude” and had not respected their international legal obligations.

“And this is especially true for Kosovo,” he said. “It sends a very negative political signal.”

“Unfortunately, they did not agree on a solution today,” he said.

For years, the EU-sponsored Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, which aims to normalize relations between the neighbors and former Western Balkan enemies, has practically stalled. The EU last week warned Serbia and Kosovo that they were on the brink of a cliff and needed to resolve their dispute or face a return to their violent past.

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Tensions between Serbia and its former province have risen again in recent weeks over the Kosovo government’s decision to ban Serbian-issued license plates, a move similar to Serbia’s previous ban on Kosovo license plates.

According to the ban, about 6,300 persons of Serbian nationality who had a car with a license plate classified as illegal in Kosovo had to be warned by Monday, and fines were imposed for the next two months. From April 21, they can only drive with a temporary local license plate.

The move led to the resignation of 10 Serbian lawmakers, 10 prosecutors and 576 police officers in Kosovo’s northern Mitrovica region on November 5.

Borrell said he put forward a proposal that only Vucic accepted and promised to keep trying hard to find a solution.

“I now expect Kosovo to immediately suspend further stages of re-registration of vehicles in northern Kosovo,” Borrell said, adding that he had asked Serbia to suspend the issuance of new license plates containing the acronyms of Kosovo’s cities.

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Kurti blamed Borrell for focusing solely on license plates instead of fully normalizing relations between neighbors.

“I am ready to come back and talk on the same agenda: a final agreement on the full normalization of relations, centered on bilateral recognition, and other current issues of a different nature, such as the license plate issue,” Kurti said. journalists. “One cannot do without the other.”

According to Vucic, Kurti was responsible for the failure of the meeting.

“Sleepless nights await us,” he said.

Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani accused Borrell of “accepting the aggressor and introducing a completely distorted reality”. Osmani reminded Borrell of at least 15 agreements with Serbia that have allegedly not been fulfilled since negotiations began 11 years ago.

“Peace and stability cannot be achieved by accommodating those with hegemonic ambitions,” he said on social media.

The issue of Kosovo’s independence sparked a 1998-99 war that killed around 13,000 people. Serbia launched a brutal crackdown on the Albanian separatist rebellion in the area. NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 to end the war.

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Kosovo unilaterally seceded from Serbia in 2008. The Serbian government, with the support of China and Russia, refused to recognize the statehood of Kosovo. The United States and most of its European allies recognize Kosovo as an independent country.

With the resignation of the Serbs this month, fewer than 50 Kosovar-Albanian police officers are manning police stations in the Mitrovica region, Borrell said.

“This leaves a very dangerous security vacuum — a vacuum on the ground — in an already very fragile situation,” he said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed his disappointment at the failure of the meeting and called for “pragmatic solutions” in a message published on Twitter. According to Stoltenberg, “escalation must be avoided,” adding that the NATO-led mission in Kosovo, known as KFOR, “will remain. vigilant.”


Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, and Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this story.