Kosovo, Serbia reach deal to end license plate dispute

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Nov. 23 (UPI) — After failing to ink a deal earlier this week, Kosovo and Serbia reached a European Union-brokered agreement Wednesday night to end a dispute over license plates that some feared could escalate to violence.

The agreement, made in Brussels, also paves the way for the two countries to focus on a EU proposal on the normalization of relations between Serbia and its former province, which claimed independence in 2008 — a move that Belgrade and ethnic Serbs push back against.

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“This is an important achievement,” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said in a video statement announcing the deal.

“The parties have agreed to measures that avoid further escalation and to fully focus on our proposal on the normalization of relations.”

The deal ends a lengthy row over license plates between the two countries that intensified recently with Kosovo implementing measures to fine drivers of Serbia-issued plated vehicles in a move to mirror Serbia’s laws.

In protest, ethnic Serbs in Kosovo resigned from public institutions in mass, leaving fewer than 50 Kosovo Albanian officers on the streets of its northern Mitrovica region.

Borrell had warned last week that this would create a dangerous vacuum in which “the worst can happen.”

Under the agreement, Kosovo will cease any further implementation of the re-registration of vehicles and Serbia will stop issuing license plates with Kosovo city denominations.

Though the deal’s specifics have not been released, it appears similar to the one Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti balked at on Monday following eight hours of talks as it was not accompanied by measures toward normalizing relations between the two nations.

The lack of normalized relations between Kosovo and Serbia has been credited with impeding not only their countries’ prosperity but also their progress toward gaining EU membership. It is also considered a threat to stability in the Balkans.

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“After today’s agreement, we should continue our intensive talks on the proposal of EU, backed by Germany and France, for the normalization of relations,” Besnik Bislimi, Kosovo’s first deputy prime minister who participated in the talks Wednesday, said in a statement.

Borrell said that he will invite both countries back to Brussels in the coming days to work on next steps.

“I would like to point out that we also agreed that in the case of obstruction by either party the EU facilitator may terminate the process,” he said.

The United States, which had expressed dismay earlier this week when the two parties failed to reach an agreement, said Wednesday that it welcomes that they have agreed to avoid further escalation of tensions.

“We welcome the decision by the parties to put the interests of all their people at the forefront of their decision making and take steps to improve the everyday lives of their citizens,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

“The two parties took a giant stop forward today … towards assuring peace and stability throughout the region.”