Kosovo-Serbia border blocked by protesters amid tensions

Sep 21, 2021, 2:10 AM | Updated: 11:53 am
Kosovo's Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla during an interview with The Associated Press in Kosovo's ...

Kosovo's Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla during an interview with The Associated Press in Kosovo's capital Pristina on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. Tensions soared Monday when Kosovo special police with armored vehicles were sent to the border to impose a rule on temporarily replacing Serb license plates from cars while they drive in Kosovo. Kosovo authorities said a 2016 deal with Serbia reached in European Union-mediated talks had expired and only proper Kosovo symbols are now valid. (AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The Kosovo-Serbia border was blocked again Tuesday by ethnic Kosovo Serbs protesting a decision by Kosovo authorities to start removing Serbian license plates from cars entering the country. The traffic chaos raised fears that it may unleash much deeper tensions between the two Balkan neighbors.

Serbia doesn’t recognize its former province of Kosovo as a separate nation and considers their mutual border only as an “administrative” and temporary boundary.

Trucks have blocked the road to the Jarinje and Brnjak border crossing where small groups of Serbs spent the night in tents. An Associated Press photographer wasn’t let onto the road by car but other people crossed the border on foot.

Tensions soared Monday when Kosovo special police with armored vehicles were sent to the border to impose a rule on temporarily replacing Serb license plates from cars while they drive in Kosovo. It’s a minor annoyance for drivers with a big symbolic impact. Kosovo authorities say they are only copying a program by Serbian police, who have for years been taking off registration plates from Kosovo-registered cars entering Serbia. Drivers then need to pay 5 euros for a temporary license plate.

Kosovo authorities said a 2016 deal with Serbia reached in European Union-mediated talks had expired and now only proper Kosovo symbols are valid.

Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla told The Associated Press that Serb citizens in Kosovo “should not fear state institutions, police.” He said many Serbs in Kosovo were being “manipulated’ by authorities in Serbia.

Hundreds of Kosovo Serbs drove to the border in their cars and trucks, blocking roads leading to the crossing points. Kosovo police on Monday fired tear gas at the protesters, but they remained.

Igor Simic, a Kosovo Serb official, said this is “a democratic protest” by Kosovo’s Serbs.

“They are just trying to save their human rights of free movement,” he said.

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti held a meeting with Western ambassadors from United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the European Union, telling them that “yesterday’s decision was not a provocation or discrimination against anyone.”

“On this reciprocity of the temporary number plates for the cars, either both Kosovo and Serbia are right or they are wrong. Thus they will either keep number plates of both countries or take them away,” Kurti said.

The Kosovar prime minister talked with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday on the issue.

Thousands of people were killed and more than 1 million were left homeless after a 1998-1999 bloody crackdown by Serbian troops against Kosovo Albanian separatists. The war ended only after NATO intervened. Kosovo then declared independence in 2008. It has been recognized by the U.S. and other Western nations, but not by Serbia and its allies Russia and China.

Thousands of NATO-led peacekeepers, including U.S. troops, are still deployed in Kosovo, trying to stave off lingering ethnic tensions between majority Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs.

The EU and U.S. urged Kosovo and Serbia to “immediately, without any delay” exercise restraint and refrain from unilateral actions.

“”It’s important to reduce tensions, restore a peaceful atmosphere & allow for freedom of movement. We stand ready to facilitate talks on all open issues,” tweeted Miroslav Lajcak, EU’s special envoy for Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.

Serbia’s populist president, Aleksandar Vucic, described Kosovo’s car license plates decision as a “criminal action” after a meeting Tuesday of the top Serbian state security body and insisted that Kosovo’s special police withdraw from the Serb-dominated north.

“We consider as inappropriate any statements equaling the blame of Belgrade and Pristina,” Vucic said referring to the EU and U.S. urging both sides to ease the tensions. “The only solution is the withdrawal of all troops, then we can go to Brussels and discuss everything and possibly reach an agreement.”

___

Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania, Jovana Gec from Belgrade, Serbia.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

EU Commission proposes blocking billions in funds to Hungary

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s executive branch recommended Wednesday that billions of euros in EU funds be withheld from Hungary over its failure to implement solid rule-of-law reforms, a move highlighting lingering divergences between the European partners. The Council, which represents the bloc’s 27 countries, has until Dec. 19 to take a decision based […]
4 hours ago
Associated Press

Changes let high school athletes bank big endorsement bucks

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Jada Williams was a social media star and a talented point guard when she moved with her mother from a Kansas City suburb to San Diego, looking to play basketball for a high school powerhouse and parlay her online prowess into endorsement deals. She found it all in California, which has […]
4 hours ago
FILE - Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Nov. 17...
Associated Press

Next generation: Hakeem Jeffries set to lead House Democrats

WASHINGTON (AP) — Emboldened House Democrats are poised to usher in a new generation of leaders with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries becoming the first Black American to head a major political party in Congress as long-serving Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her team step aside. Showing rare party unity after their midterm election losses, the House Democrats […]
4 hours ago
FILE - President Joe Biden speaks during a Tribal Nations Summit during Native American Heritage Mo...
Associated Press

Biden making new commitments at Tribal Nations Summit

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden plans to make new commitments to Native American nations during the government’s first in-person summit on tribal affairs in six years. The changes include uniform standards for federal agencies to consult with tribes, a plan to revitalize Native languages and new efforts to strengthen the tribal rights that are […]
4 hours ago
Baker David Buelens carries uncooked baguettes to the oven at a bakery in Versailles, west of Paris...
Associated Press

Crunch time: UN puts baguette on cultural heritage list

PARIS (AP) — The humble baguette — the crunchy ambassador for French baking around the world — is being added to the U.N.’s list of intangible cultural heritage as a cherished tradition to be preserved by humanity. UNESCO experts gathering in Morocco this week decided that the simple French flute — made only of flour, […]
4 hours ago
FILE - President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event at Bowie State University in Bowie, Md., Nov....
Associated Press

Biden shows little urgency as Dems mull 2024 primary shakeup

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats considering shaking up the order of their 2024 presidential primary are waiting on President Joe Biden, anxious to see if he’ll endorse stripping Iowa of its traditional leadoff spot or discourage major changes while mulling his own potential reelection bid. But Biden seems to be showing little urgency in addressing the […]
4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
Kosovo-Serbia border blocked by protesters amid tensions