Deadline approaches for ethnic Serbs to switch to Kosovo-issued car plates
Tensions are high over license plates between the Kosovo government and ethnic Serbs in Serb-majority municipalities.
Pristina is refusing to delay the month-end deadline, demanding that everyone residing in Kosovo exchange Serb-issued car license plates for Kosovar plates.
Kosovo, which is predominantly ethnic Albanian, has sought to force Serbs to accept Pristina’s authority in routine bureaucratic affairs since declaring independence in 2008.
Prior to the declaration, the former Serbian province had been a UN protectorate since NATO’s military intervention in 1999 aimed at ending ethnic cleansing and repression of Albanians by Belgrade-controlled forces. strongman of Serbian President Slobodan Milošević.
Its independence has been recognized by the United States and all but five European Union countries, but Serbia, backed by its allies Russia and China, refuses to do so – claiming that the declaration of independence was made unilaterally – as most ethnic Serbs inside Kosovo do. .
After the withdrawal of Serbian forces, authorities in Belgrade set up parallel public services – including car registration offices – in other parts of the country.
Pristina disputes the validity of these number plates, saying the switch to Kosovo-issued plates is in line with the 2011 Brussels agreement between the two sides.
Few people switch to new plates despite calls from Pristina
Despite the issue erupting, US government spokesman Ned Price said the White House was confident that Kosovo and Serbia could come to an agreement peacefully in the coming days.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said the country was simply exercising its right to sovereignty.
“We have already extended the deadline. Instead of September 30, the last date is October 31 when all Kosovo citizens who have vehicles with expired plates will be able to convert them to legitimate license plates.”
“I call on all citizens to convert cars with these license plates into legitimate cars,” Kurti said.
Some 50,000 people living in Serb-majority areas in the north use license plates issued by Serbian authorities in defiance of Kosovar institutions.
When the announcement came back on September 1, NATO peacekeepers were deployed in northern Kosovo to ease tensions after ethnic Serbs set up roadblocks to protest Pristina’s decision.
The national press in Kosovo has reported that the number of those who have switched to Kosovo-issued license plates is in the dozens.
In late September, Kosovo Interior Minister Xhelal Sveçla claimed that at least three ethnic Serbs had been targets of property destruction after making the switch, two of whom were Kosovo police officers.