Ban on Serbian documents in Kosovo raises tension with Belgrade | International
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The decision of the Kosovar government to ban Serbian documents and license plates, which will have to be replaced as of this month by Kosovar documents, has aroused the indignation of Serbia and the Kosovar Serb minority. This community is the majority in the north of the former Serbian province that in 2008 proclaimed its independence. Belgrade still does not recognize the independence of Pristina.
Since Sunday, trucks and heavy machinery belonging to Serbian citizens have been blocking traffic on the roads leading to the Brnjak and Jarinje border crossings in protest at the veto of documents issued by Belgrade, which has forced the closure of those two points of the border between both countries. Between mutual reproaches from Serbia and Kosovo, NATO’s International Security Force for Kosovo (KFOR) warned this Sunday in a statement that it is prepared to intervene “if stability is compromised” in the territory.
Pristina had announced in June that it would no longer accept Serbian identity cards and license plates from August. The authorities of this region —recognized as an independent state by more than 100 countries, many from the European Union, but not by Serbia, Russia, China, Brazil and Spain, among others— assure that it is a reciprocity measure, since Belgrade also does not accept their license plates or documents. According to the new measures, people who enter Kosovo with Serb identity cards will receive a temporary Kosovar document valid for 90 days. Serbian license plates issued by Kosovar cities in which Serbs are in the majority will also have to be replaced by official Kosovo plates.
After consulting with the ambassadors of the United States and the European Union, Pristina had announced on Sunday that the veto of the Serbian documents, which was to take effect on Monday, August 1, was postponed until September 1. The government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti, a left-wing nationalist critical of how the relationship with Belgrade has been managed in the past, had conditioned this moratorium on the removal of the barricades and the unblocking of the closed border crossings. However, this morning, the trucks full of gravel and the heavy machinery of Kosovo Serb citizens continued to block traffic, so Pristina began to issue its documents at the largest border crossing in the region, Merdare, according to the Reuters agency.
“This decision [la expedición de nuevos documentos] it will continue to apply until all the barricades are removed and the freedom of movement of people and goods is guaranteed,” said Kosovar Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla.
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The blockade and barricades of Serb citizens on roads had led the Kosovar police to deploy their patrols on roads near the northern city of Mitrovica on Sunday. KFOR helicopters also flew over northern Kosovo, which is mostly populated by Serbs and is directly linked to Serbia. The refusal to adopt Kosovar documents is a way for this minority to refuse to recognize the independence of the territory.
The ban on driving in Kosovo with Serbian license plates already caused roadblocks in September 2021 by the Kosovo Serb minority. Kosovo then reacted by deploying special forces, with armor and soldiers armed with automatic rifles. Serbia, for its part, raised the alert level of its troops near the border and sent fighter jets near its demarcation with its former province. The Serbian government maintains that Pristina’s objective in adopting such measures is to expel Serbs from the north of the country.
KFOR, the NATO mission with 3,770 soldiers on the ground in Kosovo, is mandated to maintain the fragile peace in this territory. On Sunday, Italian peacekeepers were visible in and around the northern city of Mitrovica. In 2013, the two countries committed to a European Union-sponsored dialogue to try to resolve outstanding issues, but little progress has been made since then.
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