The Kosovo authorities have apparently succumbed to international pressure and softened their decision to ban illegal car license plates, a move that may prevent riots by Serbian minorities on the issue.
After a meeting on Friday with ambassadors from the US and four European countries – France, Germany, Italy and Britain – before the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Albin Corti said the authorities had decided it was “better” to offer other lenient opportunities.
In the first three weeks of November, those who owe vehicles with illegal registration plates will only receive a reprimand or a warning. For the next two months they will be fined, and for another three months until April 21, they will only drive with replaced local plates, the Prime Minister said.
The spokesman for the US Department of State, Ned Price, said that “extending the timeline (of the license plates) is in the interest of progress in the European dialogue to normalize Kosovo-Serbia relations.”
In August, the government in Pristina decided to postpone until November 1 the decision to require vehicles with old or Serbian number plates to be replaced with Kosovar cars. It also meant that vehicles entering from Serbia had to replace Serbian license plates with Kosovo ones.
For the past 11 years, the return trip by Serbia has been required for vehicles entering from Kosovo.
This summer there was trouble because of the refusal of Serbia and Kosovo to recognize each other in identity documents and vehicle license plates. The Kosovo Serbs in the north set up roadblocks, activated air raid sirens and fired guns into the air.
In August, EU and US envoys negotiated a solution to the travel document problem, allowing the situation to calm down.
The European Union has told Kosovo and Serbia that they must normalize ties if they want to move towards membership in the 27-nation bloc. Brussels and Washington have recently stepped up mediation efforts, fearing that uncertainty over the war in Ukraine and Serbia’s close ties with Russia could worsen the situation.
Kosovo’s independence in 2008 was recognized by Washington and most EU countries, while Serbia relied on the support of Moscow and China to try to keep the former province. Belgrade lost control of Kosovo in 1999 after NATO bombed the country to end its brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatist rebels.
NATO peacekeepers say they are ready to keep the country calm, especially in northern Kosovo, where most ethnic Serbs live.