Kosovo and Serbia have agreed on an EU-brokered deal to end a dispute over vehicle registration plates.
Kosovo and Serbia have reached an agreement to end a long-running dispute over vehicle number plates that the European Union had warned, could lead to communal violence.
Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief, announced the deal on Twitter on Wednesday.
“We have a deal,” Borrell said.
“I am very pleased to announce that the chief negotiators of Kosovo and Serbia, under EU facilitation, have agreed on measures to prevent further escalation,” he said.
Serbia and Kosovo — which declared independence from Belgrade in 2008 — will now focus on an EU proposal to normalize their relations, Borrell said.
Kosovo’s declaration of independence is recognized by about 110 countries, but not by Serbia, Russia, China and five EU member states.
The latest dispute between the Western Balkan neighbors erupted after the government in Pristina tried to force the Serbian minority to change license plates from before 1999when Kosovo was still part of Serbia.
But Serbs in the northern part of Kosovo — who refuse to recognize Pristina’s authority and still consider themselves part of Serbia — have resisted the ban, sometimes violently.
As a sign of disobedience, nearly 600 police officers from the Serbian minority in Kosovo, followed by judges, prosecutors and other state employees quit their job earlier this month.
Despite the fierce protests, Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti insisted that the plan go ahead. put it off for two dayswhen he came under pressure from the United States.
The dispute also raised alarm bells in the EU, which has brokered talks to normalize ties and wants both sides to refrain from provocative gestures.
Borrell had said on Monday, after receiving Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Brussels for negotiations on the issue, that Vucic was willing to accept a compromise, but Kurti was not.
Kurti blamed Borrell for focusing solely on the license plates rather than the full normalization of neighborly ties.
Vucic said Kurti was responsible for the failure of the meeting.
On Twitter, Borrell said Wednesday that the deal reached by both sides means that Serbia will stop issuing license plates with markings denoting Kosovo cities, and that Kosovo will “cease any further action related to vehicle re-registration.”
Borrell added that he will invite both sides in the coming days to discuss an EU proposal, also backed by France and Germany, that will allow the enemies to normalize relations.
Washington said it welcomed Wednesday’s deal.
“Today, with the help of the EU, the two sides took a major step forward to ensure peace and stability across the region,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the US State Department.
“We further commend the agreement between the two countries to fully and urgently focus on normalizing relations under the auspices of the EU-facilitated dialogue,” he added.
The question of Kosovo’s independence led to a war between 1998 and 1999 in which about 13,000 people died. Serbia launched a brutal crackdown to curb a separatist uprising by the area’s ethnic Albanians.
NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 to end the war.
The Western Security Alliance still has some 3,700 peacekeepers on the ground to keep the fragile peace.