Kosovo and Serbia will reach a final agreement to normalize relations before spring 2023, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti told parliament, a day after the European Union brokered a deal to end a dispute over car registration plates.
The nearly two-year-old dispute over the replacement of old Serbian-issued plates goes to the heart of divisions between Kosovars and ethnic Serbs living in the north of the country who consider themselves part of Serbia.
European countries have warned that this could escalate into violence.
Following Wednesday’s agreement, Kurti said talks for a deal with Serbia would begin within days mediated by the European Union and backed by the United States.
The license agreement, Kurti said, had established that the two parties would “negotiate and agree on an EU proposal, supported by France and Germany, in order to reach the (final) agreement as soon as possible. as possible”.
“That means before the spring of 2023. It may be earlier but not later than that,” he said.
Kurti told parliament that the licensing issue would become moot once a final deal was reached.
About 50,000 ethnic Serbs who live in the northern part of Kosovo refuse to recognize the authority of officials in Pristina.
Another 50,000 scattered across Kosovo maintain close relations with Serbia but accept Kosovo’s institutions and daily life.
Kosovo had planned to start imposing fines from Thursday on 10,000 Serbian drivers who continue to use Serbian-issued license plates, but after Wednesday’s agreement it will not do so and will also give up a plan that would have given him the ability to confiscate cars if the fines had no effect.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said there was no time for celebrations, although peace was maintained.
“It’s a small victory that will lead us into a more difficult situation,” he told a press conference in Belgrade.
“I know that difficult times lie ahead. I am happy that we have succeeded in preserving peace for our people.”
Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence is recognized by around 110 countries, but not by Serbia, Russia, China and five EU member states.
Serbia and Kosovo are both aiming to join the EU, but the bloc has told them they must first resolve their disagreements.
NATO has 3,700 blue helmets on the ground to keep the peace.
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