EU warns of escalation as Serbia, Kosovo fail to resolve car plates dispute

In Europe

BRUSSELS/BELGRADE, Nov 21 (Reuters) – The European Union warned of “escalation and violence” on Monday after Kosovo and Serbia failed to agree in emergency talks on a solution to their long-running dispute over car licence plates used by the ethnic Serb minority in Kosovo.

“After many hours of discussion…the two parties did not agree to a solution today,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement. “I think that there is an important responsibility for the failure of the talks today and for any escalation and violence that might occur on the ground in the following days.”

Kosovo has attempted this year to require its Serb minority to change their old car plates that date before 1999 when Kosovo was still part of Serbia.

However, this move has been met with strong and sometimes violent resistance by Serbs living in the northern part of the country.

Borrell said that the EU put forward a proposal that could have avoided a further ratcheting up of tensions, which was accepted by Serbian President Aleksander Vucic but not by Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

“For reasons that are unclear to me, we have failed to reach absolutely any agreement,” Vucic told reporters after the meeting. “The Serbian side was completely constructive and we were accepting the texts that were changed ten times, but the Albanian side did not want to accept anything, not for a second, they would always add something that was clearly not possible.”

There was no immediate comment from the Kosovo side.

The dispute over licence plates has stoked tensions for almost two years between Serbia and its former breakaway province, which declared independence in 2008 and is home to a Serb minority in the north backed by Belgrade.

Hundreds of police officers, judges, prosecutors, and other state workers from the Serb minority quit their jobs earlier this month after the government in Pristina ruled that local Serbs must finally replace car plates issued by Serbia’s unrecognised authorities in Kosovo, with Kosovo state ones.

Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Mike Harrison

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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