EU Urges Kosovo To Allow More Time For Conversion Of Serb License Plates

By RFE/RL's Balkan Service

The European Union has urged Kosovo to allow more time for a phaseout of old Serbian license plates still being used by ethnic Serbs in the country.

"Kosovo should allow for a longer transition period," Nabila Massrali, spokeswoman for foreign affairs and security at the European Commission, said on October 29.

"This has been the consistent advice of Kosovo's closest partners, including the EU and the U.S. It is disappointing to see it has not been followed," she added.

Her comment came a day after Prime Minister Albin Kurti unveiled a plan to implement a new license plate registration rule under which the phaseout would take place gradually.

He said drivers would first be given warnings during the initial three-week period starting on November 1. That is to be followed by a two-month period when fines will be issued. There will then be another two-month period during which temporary license plates will be valid.

If drivers do not change their plates by April 21, their vehicles will be confiscated.

Kurti announced the compromise plan a day after minority Serbs threated to again block roads if authorities in Pristina did not agree to delay implementation of the phaseout.

The European Union said Kosovo had the right to phase out the old car plates and had taken a step in the right direction, but pointed to an agreement from 2016 that foresaw a 12-month timeframe for the process, which it said had not been followed.

The United States also issued a statement saying it preferred an extension of the implementation of the rule.

“Kosovo has the right to implement the license plate regime under the Brussels Agreement, but an extension of the timeline is in the interest of making progress on the EU-facilitated dialogue to normalize Kosovo-Serbia relations,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in the statement on October 28.

Massrali urged all parties to maintain calm, exercise restraint, and "avoid any actions or rhetoric that could jeopardize the stability on the ground, particularly in the north of Kosovo."

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

The attempts have been met with strong and sometimes violent resistance by ethnic Serbs who live in the northern part of the country.

Kosovo and Serbia fought a war in 1998-99, with Kosovo eventually declaring independence in 2008.

Ethnic Serbs in the north of Kosovo have been using car plates issued by Serbian institutions since the end of the war with the acronyms of Kosovar cities such as KM (Kosovska Mitrovica), PR (Pristina), or UR (Urosevac).

The government in Kosovo regards the plates as illegal but until now has tolerated them in four northern municipalities with Serb majorities.

With reporting by Reuters