‘Giant step forward’: Kosovo, Serbia reach deal on vehicle plates | News from the EU

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Kosovo, Serbia agree EU-brokered deal to end dispute over vehicle number plates.

Kosovo and Serbia have reached an agreement to end a long-running dispute over vehicle number plates held by the EU the warning could trigger ethnic violence.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, announced the deal on Twitter on Wednesday.

“We have an agreement,” Borrell said.

“Very pleased to announce that the chief negotiators for Kosovo and Serbia, under EU facilitation, have agreed on measures to avoid further escalation,” he said.

Serbia and Kosovo, which declared independence from Belgrade in 2008, will now focus on an EU proposal on how to normalize their relations, Borrell said.

Kosovo’s declaration of independence is recognized by around 110 countries, but not by Serbia, Russia, China and five EU member states.

The latest spat between the western Balkan neighbors erupted after the government in Pristina tried to demand that its Serb minority change license plates from before 1999 when Kosovo was still part of Serbia.

But Serbs in the north of Kosovo – who refuse to recognize Pristina’s authority and still consider themselves part of Serbia – have opposed the ban, sometimes violently.

In a sign of defiance, close to 600 police officers from Kosovo’s Serb minority are followed by judges, prosecutors and other state workers quit their jobs earlier this month.

Despite the violent protests, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti insisted the plan would go ahead, before announcing on Tuesday that he would postpone it for two daysafter he came under pressure from the US.

The dispute also set off alarm bells in the EU, which has brokered talks to try to normalize ties and wants both sides to hold off on provocative gestures.

Borrell had said on Monday, after hosting Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Brussels for talks on the issue, that Vucic had been ready to accept a compromise but Kurti had not.

Kurti blamed Borrell for focusing solely on the license plates instead of the full normalization of ties between the neighbors.

Vucic said Kurti was responsible for the failure of the meeting.

On Twitter on Wednesday, Borrell said the agreement reached by both sides meant that Serbia stopped issuing license plates with markings indicating Kosovo cities and Kosovo “will cease further actions related to re-registration of vehicles”.

Borrell added that he would invite both sides in the coming days to discuss an EU proposal, also backed by France and Germany, that would allow the adversaries to normalize relations.

Washington said it welcomes Wednesday’s agreement.

“The two sides took a giant step forward today, with EU facilitation, towards ensuring peace and stability across the region,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the US State Department.

“We further commend the two countries’ agreement to concentrate fully and as soon as possible on normalizing relations under the auspices of the EU-facilitated dialogue,” he added.

The issue of Kosovo’s independence sparked a war between 1998 and 1999 in which around 13,000 people died. Serbia launched a brutal crackdown to quell a separatist rebellion by the territory’s ethnic Albanians.

NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 to end the war.

The security alliance still has around 3,700 peacekeepers on the ground to maintain the fragile peace.

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