By Alice Taylor | EURACTIV.com and Exit News
After ten days of tensions between Kosovo and Serbia that prompted concerns of a renewed conflict in the region, a temporary agreement has been brokered to de-escalate the situation, Miroslav Lajčák, EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, announced on Thursday (30 September).
The crisis erupted on 20 September when Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti announced that all Serbian vehicles must display a temporary Kosovo number plate after crossing into Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence from Belgrade in 2008.
The Serbian government, which imposed the same measure on Kosovo vehicles entering Serbia, reacted by blocking border crossings and sending tanks and military aircraft to its southern border.
“We have a deal!” Lajčák wrote on Twitter, adding that “after two days of intense negotiations, an agreement on de-escalation and the way forward has been reached.
He thanked the technical leads of both countries, Petar Petković from Serbia and Besnik Bislimi from Kosovo, “for their readiness to negotiate and agree for the good of the people.”
Both parties have agreed to simultaneously remove special police units near the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings, starting at 8 am on Saturday (2 October) and completing the withdrawal no later than 4 pm.
NATO-led Kosovo Forces will deploy along the border at the same time and will remain there for “approximately two weeks to maintain a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement.”
The agreement stipulates that as of 4 October at 8 am; the “sticker regime” will be implemented as a temporary measure until a permanent solution can be agreed upon. This means cars will be given stickers at the border to cover flags and country names on their respective license plates.
Meanwhile, a joint working group will work for six months to find a permanent solution. The group will comprise representatives of the EU, Belgrade, and Pristina, and will be chaired by the EU.
The first meeting of the working group is scheduled to take place in Brussels on 21 October. Six months after the first meeting, stakeholders will present a permanent solution to the high-level dialogue, supervised by the EU, the agreement concluded
News of an agreement will come as a welcome relief for the Balkans and Europe, who feared that tensions could erupt into further violence. On 26 September, grenades were thrown at the civil registration centre in Kosovo’s Zvecan, while the vehicle registration centre in nearby Zubin Potok was torched.
Serbia also blocked two main roads near the border while tanks and military aircraft manoeuvred nearby.
Kurti described it as “provocation” and stood by the decision, stating it was nothing more than reciprocity.
The agreement brokered on Thursday echoes similar ones made in 2011 and 2016, which laid down provisions on how the license plate issue should be dealt with.
Under those agreements, vehicles of Kosovo residents would be allowed to display RKS (Republic of Kosovo) plates, while Serbia would display its own. Serbia did not implement either of the decisions, forcing Kosovo vehicles to use temporary plates.
Kosovo is one of six Western Balkan countries hoping to join the EU but has yet to apply for candidate status. Serbia, which started its EU accession talks in 2014, does not recognise Kosovo’s independence but the two countries will have to reach a comprehensive agreement on normalising relations before either of them is allowed to join the bloc.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]