General

No deal with Kosovo, sleepless nights ahead, says Serbian president

"Sleepless nights and certainly many difficult days are ahead of us," Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told reporters in Brussels following the latest meeting.

Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have risen since ethnic Serbs in Kosovo withdrew from all central and local institutions in protest over Pristina’s decision to replace old car license plates issued by Serbian authorities with those from Kosovo.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell held an emergency meeting focused on dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo to discuss how to find a solution to the car license plate crisis.

Vucic underlined that the Serbian side was "completely constructive" during the talks, insisting on the "implementation of the signed agreements that were changed 10 times."

He accused Kosovo of refusing to "accept anything," adding "they always added something that was clearly not possible."

Vucic said Serbia would adhere to a request by Borrell for Belgrade not to issue new license plates and for Pristina not to impose fines on owners of vehicles with Serbian license plates.

The Serbian president is expected to address the nation Monday night regarding the meeting.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, with most UN member states including the US, UK, France, Germany and Türkiye recognizing it as a separate autonomous country from its neighbor.

But Belgrade continues to regard it as its territory.

On Monday, the second phase of Kosovo's decision on the re-registration of vehicles is expected to begin, with the owners of vehicles with Serbian license plates to be fined €150 (around $153).

Pristina said it will start issuing fines this month to Serb drivers using old pre-independence plates and will confiscate vehicles with outdated registration numbers after April 21, 2023.

For his part, Borrell said Vucic had accepted a proposal presented by European negotiators to him and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, who had rejected the compromise. The deal could have avoided a risky situation in the north of Kosovo, Borrell added.

He called on Kosovo to immediately stop further activities related to the re-registration of vehicles in the north of the country.

"I repeat, I expect Kosovo to immediately suspend further stages related to re-registration in the north of Kosovo," Borrell said.

He added that this would allow the parties space and time to look for a sustainable solution.

The bloc's spokesperson, Peter Stano, also criticized the Kosovar side, saying that not agreeing to the proposed deal sent a very negative signal.

"I will inform European Union member states, foreign ministers, and our partners about the unconstructive behavior of parties and complete lack of respect for their international legal obligations, and this goes in particular for Kosovo," said Stano.

The EU and NATO have urged both Serbia and Kosovo to refrain from unilateral actions and resolve outstanding issues through dialogue.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meanwhile called on Kosovo and Serbia to act responsibly and avoid tensions.

''We are disappointed that it was not possible to solve the license plate dispute. Now is the time for responsibility and pragmatic solutions. Escalation must be avoided,'' said Stoltenberg on social media.

He added that NATO's Kosovo peacekeeping force is on the alert for any situation.

Kurti said that Borrell has abandoned the EU's proposal for the normalization of Kosovo-Serbia relations.

"This is unacceptable for us unless the negotiations are accompanied by an urgent commitment to the final agreement for the complete normalization of relations, which is why we were invited here. The deadline for the proposal brought by (EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav) Lajcak was March 2023. We are coming here to Brussels to agree on a new journey before March 2023. Unfortunately, the mediator, Borrell, in this case, has abandoned the March 2023 deadline and the EU proposal to normalize Kosovo-Serbia relations,'' said Kurti.

Brussels has facilitated the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue, which is designed to ease tensions and resolve bilateral issues, one of the requirements for full-fledged EU membership.

Source: Anadolu Agency