BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s foreign policy chief was meeting the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo in Brussels on Monday, in a bid to defuse tensions between the Balkan neighbors amid their dispute over vehicle license plates.
EU High Representative Josep Borrell had scheduled separate talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti before a joint meeting later in the day.
The EU said “the aim of the emergency meeting will be to find a way out of the current crisis and avoid any further escalation and tension on the ground, with a focus on the hot spots. registration and return of Kosovo Serbs to Kosovo institutions”.
The EU warned Serbia and Kosovo last week that they were on the edge of a precipice and must resolve their dispute or face the prospect of a return to their violent past.
Long-simmering tensions between Serbia and its former province have escalated in recent weeks following the Kosovo government’s decision to ban Serb-issued license plates. On November 5, 10 Serbian legislators, 10 prosecutors and 576 police officers from the Mitrovica region in northern Kosovo resigned following this decision.
Under the ban, about 6,300 ethnic Serbs with cars with license plates deemed illegal in Kosovo were to be warned by Monday’s deadline and then fined for the next two months. From April 21, they would only be allowed to drive with temporary local plates.
The issue of Kosovo’s independence sparked a 1998-99 war in which an estimated 13,000 people died. Serbia has launched a brutal crackdown to curb a separatist rebellion by ethnic Albanians in the territory. NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 to end the war.
Kosovo split unilaterally from Serbia in 2008. The Serbian government, with the support of China and Russia, refused to recognize Kosovo’s statehood. The United States and most of its European allies recognize Kosovo as an independent country.