Police Chief In Northern Kosovo Suspended Over Alleged Refusal To Implement License Plate Conversion Rule

The regional police chief in the north of Kosovo has been suspended after he was accused of refusing to implement the government's policy on phasing out license plates issued by Serbia when Kosovo was still part of the country.

Nenad Djuric was suspended after the Police Inspectorate of Kosovo announced on November 3 that he is suspected of criminal offenses related to his refusal to implement the plan.

Minister of Internal Affairs Xhelal Svecla said that the refusal to implement the government’s decisions represents a serious threat to the security and stability of Kosovo.

“The Kosovo police is one [force] and all its members should have the same mission: the rule of law and the creation of a safe environment for all citizens regardless of difference,” Svecla said on Facebook. “We will not allow any action that violates this mission, and together with the Kosovo Police we will continue its implementation.”

The main party representing Serbs in Kosovo, Serbian List, said that the decision to suspend Djuric was illegal.

Goran Rakic, chairman of the party, said that the Serbs should "strengthen and build" their own institutions in northern Kosovo in cooperation with Serbia.

Rakic said that he has called an extraordinary meeting of the Serbian List with the mayors of four municipalities in the north of Kosovo with Serbian majorities. The meeting will be held after the "illegal and anti-Serbian decision" to suspend Djuric, he said.

Radic said he will call on Serbs to vacate institutions in the north, including judicial, police, and other institutions.

Meanwhile, the head of the office for Kosovo in the Serbian government, Petar Petkovic, told a news conference on November 3 that Djuric was suspended because "he stood in defense of the Serbian people."

He questioned what mistake Djuric had made by refusing to participate in the decisions of Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti, “which are political."

Djuric said on November 2 that the police in the north would not implement the government's decision to issue warnings to drivers who have cars with license plates issued by Serbia.

Djuric was appointed regional police commander in the north in June 2013 after Kosovo and Serbia reached the first agreement on the normalization of relations in the dialogue mediated by the European Union.

The agreement stated that the regional commander in the four municipalities with Serbian majority is to be appointed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo.

Kosovo has attempted several times this year to require its Serb minority to change their old car plates from before 1999 when Kosovo was still part of Serbia. Authorities began implementing the latest plan to phase out old vehicle license plates on November 1.

Kurti announced the plan last week, saying drivers would first be given warnings during an initial three-week period starting on November 1. That is to be followed by a two-month period when 150 euro ($149) 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, according to the government decree.

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