Demonstration against Kosovo’s ban on cars registered in Serbia

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Jarinje (Kosovo) (AFP)

Hundreds of ethnic Serbs on Monday blocked roads in northern Kosovo leading to its only two border crossings with Serbia to protest Pristina’s ban on entering cars with Serbian license plates.

The feud has arisen over Kosovo’s use of plates with RKS (Republic of Kosovo) on them, implying its status as an independent nation, something bitterly contested by Serbia.

Until now, vehicles with Serbian license plates entered Kosovo freely.

But as Serbia refuses to allow cars with RKS plates, requiring them to take temporary plates on arrival, Pristina says its ban is only a reciprocal measure.

Protesters used trucks and cars to completely cut off traffic on the roads leading to the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings, an AFP reporter noted. They also set up tents, saying they would spend the night on the barricades.

The Kosovo government sent armored vehicles and a special police unit to the predominantly ethnic Serb area on Sunday to monitor implementation of the ban.

“Pristina is showing strength and nothing else,” one of the 500 or so protesters gathered near the Jarinje terminal told AFP.

The police “will have to leave, otherwise it will not be good,” said the protester who asked to remain anonymous. “They have nothing to do in the north.”

– United States calls for restraint –

“It was not our wish but imposed by the other party,” Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti told lawmakers on Monday.

Drivers entering Kosovo from Serbia with Serbian license plates will need to take temporary plates as long as the same rule applies to Kosovo nationals with RKS plates entering Serbia, he added.

Goran Rakic, the only Serbian minister in the Kosovo government, joined the protesters on Monday, calling on Pristina to “stop the provocations”.

The Serbs expected Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to “react and help us, as he has always done so far,” he added.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said the measure would apply as long as Serbia applied the same rule to Kosovar cars entering its territory. – AFP

Vucic said he would call for NATO help if Pristina continued to “endanger the property and lives of Serbs”.

He called a meeting of security officials on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Kosovo, he added.

“I hope we will not be forced to implement our own measures, both economic and political,” Vucic said at a televised press conference.

The US Embassy called on Kosovo and Serbia to “exercise restraint, refrain from further unilateral action and reduce tensions – immediately, without delay,” in a message posted on Twitter.

Kosovo proclaimed its independence from Serbia in 2008, a decade after the war between Belgrade forces and Albanian guerrillas.

Serbs in Serbia and Kosovo still do not recognize this decision.

Kosovo and Serbia have held EU-sponsored talks on normalizing relations for a decade.