Belgrade, Serbia — The European Union’s foreign policy chief announced on Saturday that Serbia and Kosovo have reached an agreement to settle a dispute over their identity documents, solving one of the issues that has sparked the latest tensions between former Balkan war enemies.
Josep Borrell’s comments come after a flurry of international diplomatic efforts to allay concerns that problems could escalate further amid the war in Ukraine and Serbia’s close ties to Russia.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, which Belgrade does not recognize.
Tensions ran high at the end of last month when the government of Kosovo declared that identity documents and registration plates issued by Serbia would no longer be valid on the territory of Kosovo, just as ones issued by Kosovo are not valid in Serbia. Serbia has in recent years required Kosovo ID holders to buy special passes when traveling through Serbia to demonstrate that it does not recognize Kosovo’s independence.
Kosovo said it responded to Serbia with reciprocity. But Kosovo Serbs reacted furiously, blocking roads in the Serb-dominated north. Belgrade accused Kosovo of pressuring Serb minorities in the north, who largely reject Kosovo-issued documents and hold Serb documents in defiance of Kosovo’s sovereignty.
In the past two weeks, EU officials mediated a meeting between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti in Brussels, and US and EU envoys traveled to the region to try to resolve the issue.
“We have a deal,” Borrell said on Twitter. “Serbia agreed to abolish entry/exit documents for Kosovo ID holders and Kosovo agreed not to introduce them for Serbian ID holders.”
“Kosovo Serbs, as well as all other citizens, will be able to travel freely between Kosovo & Serbia using their ID cards,” he added.
Kosovo’s president Vlosa Osmani said on Facebook that the deal meant “reciprocity and equality”.
“Free movement is the foundation of democratic societies and European values,” she said, adding that Kosovo will continue to strive for “mutual recognition”.
Earlier Saturday, Vucic told reporters that if the ID deal is reached, Serbia will issue a “general disclaimer” on the border, stating that the use of Kosovo ID cards is enabled for “practical reasons and freedom of movement”, and not means that Serbia recognizes Kosovo or its future status.
However, he said that the Serbian license plates that many Kosovo Serbs still use remain an unresolved problem.
Kosovo’s independence has been recognized by Washington and most EU countries, while Serbia counted on support from Moscow and China for its bid to keep the former province. Belgrade lost control of Kosovo in 1999 after NATO bombed the country to end brutal crackdowns on ethnic Albanian separatist rebels.
For several years now, the EU has been instrumental in the negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia with the aim of normalizing their relations and advancing their efforts to join the European Union.
NATO peacekeepers have stepped up their presence in northern Kosovo in response to heightened tensions.
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