Serbia and Kosovo reached a compromise agreement on the crisis sparked Pristina’s new rules on car number plates on September 30 in Brussels, a move that is expected to de-escalate the tensions in northern Kosovo, the EU special envoy for the conflict announced.
Tensions arose after Pristina decided on September 20 it was imposing a reciprocity measure on Serbia regarding vehicle registration plates by asking Serbian cars to replace their license plates with temporary ones to enter Kosovo. Since then, ethnic Serbs, unhappy with the decision, have been blocking the roads to the Jarinje and Brnjak border crossings to Serbia.
"We have a deal! After two days of intense negotiations, an agreement on de-escalation and the way forward has just been reached. I thank Besnik Bislimi and Petar Petkovic for their readiness to negotiate and agree for the good of the people," EU special representative for the Serbia/Kosovo dialogue Miroslav Lajcak said in a tweet.
He also thanked US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar, who spent the last few days in Brussels, in support of the EU-facilitated dialogue.
"EU-US unity is a key for success in the Western Balkans," Lajcak said.
According to the deal, both sides have agreed to withdraw from the Jarinje and Brnjak border crossings on October 2.
Ethnic Serbs from northern Kosovo will remove their blockades while Kosovan special police units will withdraw their troops from the border. The process of simultaneous withdrawal should start on October 2 at 8 am and finish no later than 4 pm, according to the agreement posted by Lajcak on Twitter.
KFOR units will be deployed at the two border crossings and will remain there at least two weeks to maintain a secure environment and freedom of movement.
In the meantime, from October 4, a sticker regime for vehicles travelling across the border will be applied as a temporary measure until a permanent solution is agreed.
It was also agreed a working group made up of representatives of Serbia, Kosovo and the EU will be established to work on finding a permanent solution to the licence plate issue under EU standards.
The first meeting will be held on October 21 in Brussels while the first findings will be presented six months later.
“I think we have reached a kind of compromise solution, which I am satisfied with and I think is important for our side,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was cited by Tanjug.
Kosovo’s PM Albin Kurti said that reciprocity for vehicle license plates has been established and that the era of Serbia getting used to reciprocity is beginning.
He also noted that Kosovo special units will withdraw from the border, but Kosovo remains ready to intervene in any other similar situation in future.
The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, who is paying officials visit to Belgrade as part of her Western Balkan tour, welcomed the agreement.
“This is a very positive development that comes after my meetings with President Aleksandar Vucic and Prime Minister Albin Kurti. It is good for the whole region. The dialogue must continue now,” von der Leyen said.
Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but it is still not recognised by Belgrade as a separate state. Both are engaged in EU-mediated talks on the normalisation of their relations, but no major progress has been achieved so far.