Kosovo PM Kurti plays hardball; Serbia says Brussels agreement ruined and KFOR ready to intervene

Serbia and Kosovo edged closer to full political meltdown over the Nov. 4-6 weekend, with Kosovo forcing the issue on license plate registration for Kosovo Serbs, prompting local protests and the broad resignation of ethnic Serbs from local institutions—with this concurrent with a rejection of a French and German plan to eventually recognize Kosovo independence.

With regard to protests in Kosovo, ethnic Serbs hit the streets in the thousands, demanding that their rights be protected and that persecution against ethnic Serbs stop. At the same time, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic stated that Serbs were committed to a diplomatic process, but Director of the Office for Kosovo and Metohija Petar Petkovic at the same time made it clear that moves by Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti to force the issue had in essence ended the Brussels agreement on cooperation, according to Serbian news outlet B92.

 „We inform the public that by declaring that he is not interested in the formation of the CSM (Community of Serbian Municipalities), Kurti delivered a fatal blow to the Brussels Agreement and a blow to every other cooperation in the relations between Belgrade and Pristina,” said Petkovic, as cited by B92.

At the heart of the protests is a demand by Kosovo that ethnic Serbs in the country replace Serbian license plates and eventually personal IDs with Kosovo documents. This is seen as a de facto recognition of Kosovo independence, which has long been rejected by Serbia.

This is not the first such attempt to force the registration issue, with each decree resulting in sharp protests and condemnation from Serbia. At the same time, the EU and the US have pressed hard for Serbia to recognize Kosovo, although reportedly the US did also pressure Kurti to back off of a November deadline for document exchanges, apparently to no avail.

With regard to the latest move, Petkovic added that Kurti had “crossed a red line” and that Serbs were both unified and “very upset.”

Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dacic meanwhile pointedly rejected a German-French plan to recognize Kosovo independence, implying that Serbia had been blindsided while showing good faith in pushing for constructive negotiations. Dacic emphasized that the current plan would not be accepted, following the Vucic’s often-repeated line that Serbia would never recognize Kosovo as an independent state.

The culmination of the above—for the time being—appears to be a decision for ethnic Serbs to resign en masse from Kosovo public institutions, which is a decision clearly also backed by Vucic.

„We are talking about major political, almost tectonic changes,” Vucic said, as quoted by B92. “After 10 years, the Serbs made the decision to leave Pristina’s institutions.”

Highly relevant—and what is guaranteed to become a sore point for the EU—is that reportedly said resignations came upon orders from Belgrade. At various points over the past few months the EU has seemed to tie both Kosovo independence and sanctions against Russia to eventual Serbian EU accession.

Now with continued protests guaranteed, this is again in question. And although Vucic has appeared to call for such protests to remain peaceful—the risk of violence and at least local conflicts between ethnic Serbs and Kosovars is high. So high that, according to Kosovo online, NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana called for dialogue and peaceful resolution, but added that KFOR forces are “ready to intervene” in order to prevent a wider conflict.

Photo of German KFOR vehicle by: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Nick_Macdonald., CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons

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