Kosovo and Serbia agree to an EU-brokered deal to end a dispute over vehicle registration plates.
Kosovo and Serbia have reached an agreement to end a longstanding dispute over vehicle license plates that the European Union has warned could spark ethnic violence.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, announced the deal on Twitter on Wednesday.
“We have a deal,” Borrell said.
“Very pleased to announce that the lead negotiators for Kosovo and Serbia under EU facilitation have agreed on measures to prevent further escalation,” he said.
Serbia and Kosovo, which declared itself independent from Belgrade in 2008, will now focus on an EU proposal on how to normalize their relations, Borrell said.
Kosovo’s declaration of independence is recognized by some 110 countries, but not by Serbia, Russia, China and five EU member states.
The latest dispute between the Western Balkan neighbors erupted after the Pristina government tried to demand that the minority Serbs change license plates on cars dating from before 1999, when Kosovo was still part of Serbia.
But Serbs in the northern part of Kosovo, who refuse to recognize Pristina’s authority and still consider themselves part of Serbia, have resisted the ban, sometimes violently.
In a sign of disobedience, nearly 600 police officers from Kosovo’s minority Serbs, followed by judges, prosecutors and other state workers resigned from their posts earlier this month.
Despite fierce protests, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti insisted the plan would go ahead, before announcing on Tuesday that he would delay it by two days, under pressure from the United States.
The dispute also raised alarm bells in the EU, which has been mediating talks to try to normalize ties and wants both sides to stop the provocative gestures.
Borrell on Monday, after receiving Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Brussels to negotiate on the issue, said Vucic was willing to accept a compromise, but Kurti was not.
Kurti blamed Borrell for focusing solely on license plates instead of fully normalizing ties between neighbors.
Vucic said that Kurti was responsible for the failure of the match.
On Twitter on Wednesday, Borrell said the deal reached by both sides meant that Serbia would stop issuing license plates with markings indicating Kosovo cities, and that Kosovo would “cease further actions related to vehicle re-registration.”
Borrell added that he will invite both parties in the coming days to discuss an EU proposal, also supported by France and Germany, which will allow the enemies to normalize relations.
Washington said it welcomed Wednesday’s deal.
“The two sides took a big step forward today, with the facilitation of the EU, to ensure peace and stability throughout the region,” said Ned Price, spokesman for the US State Department.
“Furthermore, we commend the agreement of the two countries to focus fully and urgently on the normalization of relations under the auspices of the EU-facilitated dialogue,” he added.
The issue of Kosovo’s independence triggered a war between 1998 and 1999 in which some 13,000 people died. Serbia launched a brutal crackdown to stop a separatist rebellion by ethnic Albanians in the territory.
NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 to end the war.
The Western security alliance still has some 3,700 peacekeepers on the ground to maintain the fragile peace.