Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti announced the postponement on Twitter on Monday, but made the move conditional on the removal of barricades at border crossings.
“In cooperation with our foreign partners, we undertake to delay the effectiveness of the decision on license plates and entry and exit documents at border crossings with Serbia for 30 days. The condition is that all barricades will be removed and freedom of movement fully restored,” Kurti wrote. The new regulations are to enter into force on September 1.
Ethnic Serbs blocked roads in northern Kosovo on Sunday evening near the two key border crossings Jarinje and Brnjak with Serbia. According to Reuters, they also shot at the police, but no one was injured.
“We welcome Kosovo’s decision to postpone the regulation until September 1. We expect all blockades to be removed immediately,” EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell tweeted, adding that similar issues should be resolved through EU-mediated dialogue.
“The overall security situation is tense in the municipalities of northern Kosovo,” the NATO-led KFOR mission said in a statement. The mission has about 3,770 troops from three dozen countries and is tasked with easing ongoing tensions between the majority Kosovo Albanians and the minority Serbs. According to the DPA agency, KFOR also stated that it is ready to intervene in the event of a threat to stability.
The current controversy revolves around the request originally planned for Monday. Passengers arriving from Serbia were supposed to exchange their Serbian documents for new identification cards issued by Pristina valid for three months, which would be used to enter and leave the country. In addition, a new license plate regulation was due to enter into force.
This policy corresponds to the long-standing practice applied by Belgrade towards Kosovo citizens visiting Serbia. According to Pristina, this is a reciprocal measure, as cars with a Kosovo brand must also change their brand when they arrive in Serbian territory.
In the past, Pristina briefly stopped allowing cars with Serbian license plates into Kosovo territory, which triggered a Serbian blockade of the border crossings with Kosovo for several days at the turn of September and August last year.
Serbia does not recognize the independence of Kosovo and with it, for example, its right to register cars. Therefore, since the declaration of Kosovo’s independence in 2008, Belgrade has not allowed vehicles with a Kosovo mark on the territory of Serbia and requires drivers to change it.
Most European Union countries recognize Kosovo, but Serbia’s allies Russia and China do not. The EU has been trying to mediate dialogue between the two Balkan neighbors for more than a decade, but has so far failed to normalize relations. Prime Minister Kurti said Kosovo will formally apply for membership of the European Union by the end of 2022, despite concerns about tensions with Serbia, which is also seeking EU membership.
On Sunday evening, Moscow accused Kosovo of “provocations,” writes DPA. Russian diplomacy spokeswoman Marija Zakharova said the developments on the Kosovo-Serbia border were just “further proof of the failure of the EU’s mediation mission.”