License-plate stalemate continues; Kosovo PM Kurti extends re-registration deadline

With Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic voicing worries over potential violence in Kosovo—and against the background of apparent US pressure—Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti “tweeted” an extended deadline for mandatory vehicle license plate registration, a local issue that has threatened to become a spark that plunges the region back into violence.

“I thank [US] Ambassador [to Kosovo Jeffrey] Hovenier for his commitment and engagement. I accept his request for a 48-hour postponement on imposition of fines for illegal ‘KM’ (and other) car plates,” Kurti said, via a “tweet. “I am happy to work with the US and the EU to find a solution during the next two days.”

Based on analysis and a number of reports in the media, it would appear that the US has indeed applied pressure on Kosovo and Kurti to resolve the ongoing dispute at the negotiating table. That said, an emergency meeting in Brussels Monday noted zero progress, with EU officials frustrated at the stalemate.

At stake is the forced re-registration of vehicle license plates in Kosovo belonging to ethnic Serbs, who have vehemently refused both license plate re-registration and ID replacements in the past. For both ethnic Serbs and Vucic, Kosovo plates would mean the de facto recognition of Kosovo as an independent state.

For his part, Vucic let it be known by television and via Instagram that the Kosovo side showed no interest in compromise while in Brussels, noting that the Serb side had said that a potentially neutral plate solution was on the table. This was refused outright by Kosovo, which would like to see Kosovo license plates with no ambiguity.

Prior to Kurti’s “tweet” it had been understood that ethnic Serbs would be fined for failing to register with Serbian license plates. Continued failure to register would result in the loss of driving privileges.

That said, the most likely result would be violence between both sides, and Vucic has hardly voiced optimism on this point, stating through Instagram and on television that ethnic Serbs must be protected–and that no family wants to have a child killed in war.  He called for further dialogued, although he has stated in the past that Serbia will not fail to protect Serbs in Kosovo.

Even so, it appears that Vucic has somewhat softened his stance, as in the past he has stated that on no condition would Serbia accept the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state, but on Tuesday he drew a slightly different line in the sand, saying that Serbia was open to discussion apart from Kosovo becoming a member of the United Nations. True, the difference is slight, but it is also subtle. Vucic also added that Serbia was ready to cease issuing new license plates for ethnic Serbs as one option to reduce tensions.

Meanwhile some form of talks do still appear to be possible or even ongoing, with Kosovo Foreign Minister Donika Gervalla-Schwarz Tajani stating that dialogue would continue.

Photo of US Ambassador to Kosovo Jeffrey Hovenier by usbotschaftberlin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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