Kosovo is closing two border crossings after local Serbs blocked roads

Kosovo is closing two border crossings after local Serbs blocked roads

FILE PHOTO – Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti looks on during a news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz May 4, 2022 in Berlin. Portal/Hannibal Hanschke

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MITROVICA, Kosovo, July 31 (Portal) – Kosovan police said they have closed two border crossings in the volatile north after local Serbs blocked roads and fired shots in protest at an order to change Serb car number plates to Kosovar number plates within two months had given to the police.

Fourteen years after Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia, around 50,000 Serbs living in the north are using number plates and documents issued by Serbian authorities and are refusing to recognize institutions beneath the capital, Pristina. Kosovo has been recognized as an independent state by more than 100 countries, but not by Serbia or Russia.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s government said it would give Serbs a 60-day transition period from August 1 to obtain Kosovo license plates, a year after it abandoned attempts to enforce them following similar protests.

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The government also decided that from August 1 all citizens from Serbia visiting Kosovo must receive an additional document at the border in order to grant them entry permits.

A similar rule is applied by the Belgrade authorities to Kosovars visiting Serbia.

The protesters parked trucks loaded with gravel and other heavy machinery on roads leading to the two border crossings, Jarinje and Bernjak, in an area where Serbs are a majority.

As a consequence, the Kosovan police said they had to close the border crossings. “We call on all citizens to use other border crossings,” the police said on their Facebook page.

Police said shots “were fired towards police units but fortunately no one was injured”.

It was also said that angry protesters beat up several Albanians who were passing on the blocked roads and that some cars had been attacked.

Air raid sirens could be heard for more than three hours in the small town of North Mitrovica, which is mainly inhabited by Serbs. After local Serbs blocked the same roads over license plates a year ago, the Kosovan government deployed special police forces and Belgrade flew warplanes near the border.

Tensions between the two countries are now at their highest level in years, and the fragile peace in Kosovo is being maintained by a NATO mission that has 3,770 troops on the ground. Italian peacekeepers were visible in and around Mitrovica on Sunday.

The two countries committed to a European Union-sponsored dialogue in 2013 to try to resolve outstanding issues, but little progress has been made.

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Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Philippa Fletcher

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