Serbs in northern Kosovo to resign over licence plate row

MITROVICA (AFP/APP): The Serb minority in northern Kosovo will resign from roles in public institutions in protest over a row on vehicle number plates, a political leader said Saturday.
The development drew immediate alarm from the European Union, which has been mediating talks between Kosovo and Serbia with the aim of normalising relations.
Belgrade does not recognise Kosovo’s assertion to independence and Serbs in northern Kosovo have long refused to acknowledge the capital Pristina’s authority. They have largely remained loyal to the Serbian government in Belgrade.
The move came after Pristina declared that from November around 10,000 Kosovan Serbs with licence plates issued by Serbia must replace them with plates from the Republic of Kosovo.
“We have decided to leave… the parliament, the government and our posts in the four municipalities in the north”, where the Serbs are the majority, said Goran Rakic, leader of Srpska Lista, or Serbian List, the minority’s main political outlet.
All Serbs with a public sector role will stand down, he said, including the police and the courts.
“The withdrawal of Kosovo Serbs from Kosovo institutions is not a solution to the current disputes. It has the potential to further escalate the tensions on the ground,” the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement, adding that he had spoken to both Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti.
It called on both sides to “refrain from any unilateral actions, which might lead to further tensions”.
Serbia deeply resents Kosovo’s breakaway status and has never recognised its 2008 declaration of independence, which has been accepted by most EU states.
These ties are particularly strong among the 40,000 Serbs in northern Kosovo, which Belgrade funds heavily. Last month the United States pressed Kosovo to delay the licence plate requirement, charging that the Western-backed state has been uncompromising.
The United States — which with its NATO allies backed Kosovar forces in 1999 as they fought Serbia — said that Kosovo was within its rights but should delay the rule to give time for EU-led diplomacy between the two sides.
The European Union in August brokered a deal to allow free movement between Kosovo and Serbia, seeking to ease tensions after a series of violent incidents.
In his statement, Borrell said “the recent developments in the relations between Kosovo and Serbia put years of hard work and achievements reached under the EU-facilitated Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina at risk and hamper the security situation in the region and beyond”.
He urged Serbian and Kosovo Serb representatives, and Kosovo authorities, “to respect their own obligations” under the EU-structured dialogue.
For Kosovo authorities, that means “immediately extending the process of re-registration of vehicles and suspending any punitive action against KM plate holders” and to establish an Association of Serb Majority Municipalities they had already committed to, he said.
“Any actions, such as burning of cars, or intimidating rhetoric that could lead to tensions, are unacceptable and will trigger an appropriate reaction by the international community,” the statement warned, emphasising that NATO and EU security forces were on the ground in Kosovo.