Kosovo’s prime minister, accused by Brussels of derailing talks to settle a dispute over a plan to replace Serbian license plates, said on Tuesday he had postponed the plan by two days.
The dispute erupted after Kosovo said the country’s ethnic Serbs would be fined if they did not swap Serbia-issued license plates for Pristina-issued ones.
The underlying source of tension is Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008. The latter does not recognize the move and has encouraged Kosovo’s Serb minority to remain loyal to Belgrade.
Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Twitter early Tuesday that he had accepted a request from Washington “for a 48-hour deferral of the introduction of fines” for cars with Serbian plates.
The delay helped calm tensions in northern Kosovo, a day after EU-brokered negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina over the potentially explosive plan failed to yield results.
“I look forward to working with the US and EU over the next two days to find a solution,” Kurti tweeted.
The dispute has raised alarms in the European Union, which is trying to normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo and both want to refrain from provocative gestures.
US Ambassador to Kosovo Jeffrey Hovenier also expressed concern over the failed resolution of the license plate dispute, which has the potential to spark a regional crisis.
In the latest development this month, Serbs in northern Kosovo resigned from public facilities in protest at the scheme.
About 10,000 of Kosovo’s minority population of 120,000 have car registrations issued by Serbia.
– Time to think –
Washington asked for the two-day delay “to allow the EU and the United States to further engage the parties to find a solution,” Hovenier tweeted.
Police were due to begin handing out fines of 150 euros ($154) to cars with Serbian plates from 8:00 a.m. (0700 GMT) on Tuesday. A total ban is to come into force in April 2023.
The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell hosted negotiations in Brussels between Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Monday.
Afterwards, Borrell said Vucic was ready to accept an EU compromise proposal “that could have avoided this risky situation”, but Kurti was not.
After returning to Belgrade, Vucic said the situation was on the “brink of conflict”.
“There is enormous anger among the Serbs in northern Kosovo,” he said in a public address. He added that he would ask the latter to “try to keep the peace”.
Borrell urged Pristina not to implement its license plate law and Belgrade not to issue new license plates with the Kosovar city’s initials. He said a period of reflection would give time and space for diplomacy to resume.