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Kosovo Serbs to quit state jobs over license plate row

November 6, 2022

Kosovo wants the Serb minority to swap Serbian-issued plates for locally registered ones, part of an ongoing dispute. The EU and NATO urged restraint.

Serb police officers took off their uniforms in the town of Zvecan, Kosovo
Representatives of the ethnic Serb minority in Kosovo said they will resign from their state posts along with Serb police officersImage: Bojan Slavkovic/AP Photo/picture alliance

Ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo said they would quit their posts in state institutions Saturday over a row about vehicle license plates.

The move came after Pristina declared that around 10,000 Kosovo Serbs with license plates issued by Serbia must replace them with plates issued by Kosovo starting this month.

Following a meeting of Serb political representatives, the Minister of Communities and Returns Goran Rakic said he would resign from his post in the Pristina government over the issue.

He said fellow Serbs, including those in the government, police and courts would also quit their jobs.

The officials also demanded the formation of a union of Serb municipalities that would give Serb-majority districts greater autonomy.

EU warns the move could inflame tensions

Saturday's move drew immediate alarm from the European Union, which has been mediating talks between Kosovo and Serbia to normalize relations.

"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.

He said he spoke to both Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

The EU and the United States have previously said Kosovo was entitled to phase out the plates but should allow a longer transition period.

What is behind the license plate dispute?

Fifty thousand ethnic Serbs live in the northern part of Kosovo that borders Serbia.

Many refuse to acknowledge or accept the legitimacy of the government in Pristina.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo's independence and by proxy, license plate registrations are the de facto issue by which to channel such political sentiments as viewing the border as merely an "administrative" boundary.

The EU in August brokered a deal to allow free movement between Kosovo and Serbia, seeking to ease tensions after a series of violent incidents.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, following a devastating conflict from 1998-1999 that killed thousands and drew in NATO.

NATO, which still has around 3,700 troops to maintain the fragile peace, asked Pristina and Belgrade to show restraint and prevent escalation.

lo/ar (AFP, Reuters)