Kosovo and Serbia agree to an EU-brokered deal to end a dispute over vehicle license plates.
Kosovo and Serbia have reached an agreement to end a long-running dispute over vehicle license plates that the European Union had warned could trigger ethnic violence.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, announced the deal on Twitter on Wednesday.
“We have a deal,” Borrell said.
“Very happy to announce that chief negotiators from Kosovo and Serbia under EU facilitation have agreed on steps to avoid further escalation,” he said.
Serbia and Kosovo, which declared independence from Belgrade in 2008, will now focus on an EU proposal on how to normalize relations, Borrell said.
Kosovo’s declaration of independence is recognized by around 110 countries, but not by Serbia, Russia, China and five EU member states.
The latest dispute between the Western Balkan neighbors erupted after the government in Pristina tried to force its Serbian minority to change car plates dating from before 1999 when Kosovo was still part of Serbia.
But Serbs in northern Kosovo – who refuse to recognize Pristina’s authority and still consider themselves part of Serbia – have resisted the ban, sometimes violently.
In a sign of disobedience, nearly 600 Kosovo Serb minority police officers, followed by judges, prosecutors and other state agents quit their job earlier this month.
Despite fierce protests, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti insisted the plan would go ahead, before announcing on Tuesday that he would delay it for two daysafter coming under pressure from the United States.
The dispute has also raised alarm bells in the EU, which has brokered talks to try to normalize relations and wants both sides to refrain from provocative gestures.
Borrell on Monday, after welcoming Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to Brussels for negotiations on the issue, said Vucic was ready to compromise, but Kurti was not.
Kurti faulted Borrell for only focusing on license plates instead of fully normalizing ties between neighbors.
Vucic said Kurti was responsible for the failure of the meeting.
On Wednesday on Twitter, Borrell said that the agreement reached by the two parties involved Serbia ceasing to issue license plates with markings indicating the cities of Kosovo, and that Kosovo “will cease all other actions related to the re-registration cars”.
Borrell added that he will invite the two sides in the coming days to discuss an EU proposal, also backed by France and Germany, that will allow the enemies to normalize relations.
Washington said it welcomed Wednesday’s deal.
“Both sides took a giant step today, with the facilitation of the EU, to ensure peace and stability throughout the region,” said Ned Price, spokesman for the US State Department.
“We further welcome the agreement of the two countries to fully and urgently focus on the normalization of relations under the auspices of the EU-facilitated dialogue,” he added.
The issue of Kosovo’s independence sparked a war between 1998 and 1999 in which around 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.
The security alliance still has some 3,700 peacekeepers on the ground to maintain the fragile peace.