The European Union’s foreign policy chief warned of “escalation and violence” after emergency talks between Kosovo and Serbia failed to resolve their long-running dispute over the number plates of cars used by Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority.
Amid rising tensions between the Balkans neighborsinvited EU High Representative Josep Borrell, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti to emergency talks in Brussels on Monday.
“The two sides have not agreed on a solution today,” Borrell said in a statement to the media after eight hours of fruitless discussions.
“I think both leaders bear an important responsibility for the breakdown of talks today and for any escalation and violence that may occur on the ground in the coming days.”
Kosovo has this year tried to require its Serbian minority to switch their old registration plates from before 1999, when Kosovo was still part of Serbia, in line with Serbia’s previous ban on registration plates in Kosovo.
Serbs in the north of the country do resistedsometimes violent, but Kosovo has said it will hand out fines from Tuesday.
‘Sleepless nights are coming’
Borrell said an EU proposal could have been avoided increased tensionsbut while Vucic accepted the proposal, Kurti did not.
He added that he would inform EU member states of the “disrespect of the two countries for their international legal obligations” and warned that given their commitment to join the bloc, they should act accordingly.
“I now expect Kosovo to immediately suspend any further steps regarding the re-registration of vehicles in North Kosovo,” Borrell said, adding that he asked Serbia to suspend the issuance of new license plates with acronyms of Kosovo cities.
Kurti, meanwhile, blamed Borrell for focusing solely on the license plates instead of the full normalization of ties between Belgrade and Pristina.
“I am ready to come back and talk on the basis of the same agenda: final agreement on fully normalizing ties, which has bilateral recognition in the center, and other current issues of a different nature, such as the number plates case,” Kurti said. reporters. “One cannot do without the other.”
But Vucic said the Kosovo leader was responsible for the failure of the meeting.
“Sleepless nights lie ahead,” he warned.
NATO, US call for calm
Hundreds of policemen, judges, prosecutors and other government employees from the Serbian minority in Kosovo quit their job this month after the government in Pristina ruled that local Serbs should finally replace car plates issued by North Kosovo Serb municipal authorities loyal to Belgrade with those of the state of Kosovo.
NATO, which still has some 3,700 peacekeepers stationed in the former Serbian province to prevent violence between ethnic Albanians and Serbs, said on Monday that “escalation should be avoided”.
“Now is the time for accountability and pragmatic solutions,” tweeted NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Spoke to @JosepBorrellF. We are disappointed that we were unable to resolve the license plate dispute. Now is the time for responsibility and pragmatic solutions. Escalation must be prevented. @NATO_KFOR remains vigilant.
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) November 21, 2022
The United States also called on both sides to exercise restraint.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington joined the EU “in calling on Kosovo to immediately suspend any planned measures that would escalate tensions, including the imposition of vehicle fines”.
The license plate dispute has provoked tensions between Serbia and the former breakaway province, which declared independence in 2008 and is home to a Serbian minority in the north, backed by Belgrade, for nearly two years.
The declaration of independence came ten years after a war between ethnic Albanian fighters and Serb forces that killed 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians.
Serbia, backed by its allies Russia and China, does not recognize the statehood of its former province, but most Western countries do, including the US.
Some 50,000 ethnic Serbs living there refuse to recognize Pristina’s authority and still consider themselves part of Serbia.