Kosovo, Serbia agree deal to end border tensions
BRUSSELS, Sept 30 (Reuters) – Kosovo agreed on Thursday to withdraw police units from its northern border with Serbia to end a mounting dispute over vehicle licence plates that briefly escalated into violence and prompted NATO to step up its patrols.
The accord negotiated in Brussels calms the latest flare-up in a decades-old standoff between Serbia and Kosovo but does not resolve a bigger issue blocking European Union membership talks: that Serbia and its former province Kosovo should normalise relations following Pristina’s 2008 independence.© REUTERS/Laura Hasani Kosovo ethnic Serbs pass through barricades near the border crossing between Kosovo and Serbia in Jarinje, Kosovo, September 28, 2021.
“We have a deal,” said Miroslav Lajcek, the EU’s envoy dealing with one of Europe’s toughest territorial disputes. “After two days of intense negotiations, an agreement on de-escalation and the way forward has just been reached,” he said on Twitter, where he posted the details.
Under the agreement, NATO troops will replace the Kosovar police units on the border, who will withdraw from Saturday. From Monday, both countries will place special stickers on car licence plates to remove national symbols and allow the free movement of citizens.
NATO has had some 5,000 troops in Kosovo under a United Nations mandate since June 1999, overseeing a fragile peace following a U.S.-led bombing campaign to end ethnic conflict.
The new agreement ends a ban instigated by Kosovo for all drivers from Serbia to show a temporary, printed registration. It had been a move Pristina said was in retaliation for measures in force in Serbia against drivers from Kosovo since 2008.
Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s independence and says it is right to take official actions such as registering cars.
Lajcek said he was working on a longer-term solution.
The confrontation was a reminder to the wider world of the larger Kosovo-Serbia dispute that was the EU’s to resolve, diplomats said. One senior diplomat in Brussels said the latest flare-up was, in part, an attempt to get Brussels’s attention as the process towards EU membership has stalled.
Ahead of a Balkan-EU summit on Oct. 6 in Slovenia, Reuters reported on Tuesday that the 27 member states have so far been unable to agree a declaration reaffirming their 18-year-old pledge of future EU membership for the western Balkan states. (Reporting by