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EU warns of violent escalation between Kosovo and Serbia

The European Union warned of “escalation and violence” on Monday, after emergency talks between Kosovo and Serbia failed to resolve their long-running dispute over car licence plates used by the ethnic Serb minority in Kosovo.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement, that after many hours of discussion, the two parties had not agreed to a solution. Borrel believed that responsibility falls on both sides of the conflict, and the failure of the talks might result in escalation and violence in the following days.

Borrell later discussed the matter with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said in a tweet that the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo was “vigilant”.

Spoke to @JosepBorrellF. We are disappointed that it was not possible to solve the licence plate dispute. Now is the time for responsibility & pragmatic solutions. Escalation must be avoided. @NATO_KFOR remains vigilant.

— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) November 21, 2022

Kosovo has attempted this year to require its Serb minority to change their old car plates that date before 1999 when Kosovo was still part of Serbia.

This move has been met with strong and sometimes violent resistance by Serbs living in the northern part of the country, but Kosovo has said it will start issuing fines from Tuesday.

Borrell said an EU proposal could have avoided increased tensions, but the proposal, which was accepted by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, was not accepted by Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

Borrell said he would inform the EU member states of the two countries’ “lack of respect for their international legal obligations” and warned that, given their commitment to joining the bloc, they should act accordingly.

The dispute over licence plates has stoked tensions for almost two years between Serbia and its former breakaway province, which declared independence in 2008 and is home to a Serb minority in the north backed by Belgrade.

Around 50,000 ethnic Serbs who live there refuse to recognise Pristina’s authority and still consider themselves a part of Serbia.

Hundreds of police officers, judges, prosecutors and other state workers from the Serb minority quit their jobs this month after the government in Pristina ruled that local Serbs must finally replace car plates issued by Northern Kosovo Serb municipal authorities loyal to Belgrade, with Kosovo state ones.

Borrell called on Kosovo to immediately suspend the re-registation of vehicles in north Kosovo, and asked Serbia to suspend issuing new number plates, allowing both parties space and time to find a resolution.

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