KM is disappearing, does this mean surrender?

Nema predaje KM ostaje
FOTO: KoSSev

By Dragana Vukosavljević

Serbs in the north can rest easily, we saved our Serbian license plates – the head of the Kosovo Office proudly said from Brussels a little over a year ago.

Did Serbs rest easily when a good part of their fellow citizens in the north left the Kosovo institutions and their jobs were occupied by Albanians? There are no Serbs in the police, nor in the judiciary, not even in the local government. Did they rest peacefully during the at least five crises and riots in the last two years, including those with fatal outcomes? Did they rest peacefully when hearing about numerous arrests, bases constructed, closed crossings, blocked passage of goods, rallies, barricades? All so the license plates could be saved.

Today, while the fourth deadline for the switch from KM to RKS expires, there are almost no KM plates on the streets of North Mitrovica. They can only be spotted sporadically, and will no longer be functional after December 15th. What exactly did we save?

September 2021, 14-day barricades at crossings, sticker regime

The screws on the plates still issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Serbia for towns in Kosovo – ‘PR’, ‘KM’, ‘PZ’, ‘GL’, ‘UR’, ‘PE’, ‘DA’ and ‘ĐA’ became loose even before autumn of last year.

On September 20th, 2021, special units were stationed at two crossings in the north of Kosovo. Pristina started implementation of its decision to introduce reciprocity for Serbian license plates at a time when the last plates with neutral KS markings, as agreed in 2016, expired.

FOTO: KoSSev

„Today, the implementation of the agreement to which Serbia agreed with the help of the EU is just beginning. September 15th was the deadline for the use of those plates, but also for plates KM, UR, ĐA, PR…“ Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said at the time.

The Kosovo MIA then issued a decision to issue temporary RKS plates at crossings for all vehicles with Serbian license plates, including for those with markings of towns in Kosovo, because such a system was in force at the time for vehicles with RKS plates traveling to Serbia.

„Vučić, react, the people here are anxious and scared,“ cried Goran Rakić from Jarinje.

„Another one of the most difficult days in the north of Kosovo. The most brutal incursion with around 350 people, many firearms, more than 20 armored sniper vehicles dispatched in many places,“ the Serbian president informed the public at the time.

In the next 14 days, in front of those armed special forces, Serbs, mostly employees of Serbian institutions in Kosovo, including representatives of Srpska Lista, were on duty at these crossings, night and day, in an organized manner.

During that time, the Kosovo MIA issued over 6,000 temporary plates at other crossings towards Serbia proper.

The issue was resolved with the agreement that the sticker regime will be applied to both whenever they travel to the other side of the crossing. As a result, temporary plates for RKS vehicles operating in Serbia were abolished. There was no agreement for KM plates.

„We defended the right to freedom of movement, and peace was preserved. We gave less than we did in 2012. The people are relieved,“ boasted Aleksandar Vučić.

FOTO: KoSSev

International experts sought a solution

For the next six months, international experts sought a solution, meeting once a month.

However, by April 2022, a solution that would suit both sides was not found, so the sticker regime was still in effect. Meetings at the technical level were announced in Brussels for the month of May, also without success.

Kosovo government’s decision on (re)registration from KM to RKS with benefits, citizens without instructions, graffiti on the streets

A month later, in June 2022, at the moment Miroslav Lajčak arrived in Belgrade from Pristina, the Kosovo government reached a new decision offering and obliging the switch from Serbian license plates issued by Serbia with markings of towns in Kosovo with financial benefits to RKS in the period from August 1st to October 30th.

„Their goal is to abolish KM plates, in order to abolish the north,“ said Aleksandar Vučić during a break between talks with Lajčak on the same day.

In the following days, the Kosovo government shared detailed instructions for (re)registration, while citizens were left without any instruction from the parties they relied on – Belgrade or Srpska Lista. Both remained silent on the issue.

However, the fact that some Serbs objected to the decision became visible to residents from the graffiti that appeared almost daily in several places across the town.

„No surrender – KM remains“, with photos of KM and RKS license plates, the latter with numbers 666, was sprayed throughout North Mitrovica.

Just a few days earlier, with the same slogan „no surrender“, Milan Radoičić, who was a vice-president of Srpska Lista at the time, published a video from Kamilja hill above Leposavic.

Clad in olive-green, Radoičić commented on the momentous events by saying: „I’m back, and you know what that means,“ with a now well-recognized destruction.

While the Kosovo Police was handing out flyers with instructions for re-registration, dozens of cars registered to RKS were covered with stickers containing KM markings along with the Serbian coat of arms.

stikeri KM
FOTO: KoSSev

During that time, Kurti „encouraged“ them to replace the license plates, repeatedly noting that they were exempt from all costs, and that they should trust the Kosovo government.

August 1st was approaching, and on the eve of that first day of the license plate deadline, barricades were installed in the north. The air-raid siren could be heard for hours. Jarinje and Brnjak crossings were closed. The American demands that Pristina postpone the decision on the license plates for 30 days were met. The next day, the barricades were removed.

barikade rudare
FOTO: KoSSev

For the first time, Kosovo’s interior minister spoke out about the alleged masked persons spotted at the barricades. Milan Radoičić, who was then wanted in Kosovo in connection with corruption, after the warrant for his arrest for the murder of Oliver Ivanović was lifted, was designated as the main leader, and Srpska Lista also confirmed that he was present.

A month passes by, with persistent calls from Kosovo officials for the Serbs to replace the license plates, and with the complete absence of clear instructions from Belgrade, which residents had been waiting for all along.

The Kosovo police still handed out flyers, and in the meantime, graffiti still kept appearing on the streets, now with the following messages:

„Don’t worry, we are here – the Northern Brigade“, „We are waiting“, „The Northern Brigade is growing day by day“.

grafiti
FOTO: KoSSev

Another meeting took place in Brussels in the same month – without a solution, and after, Vučić called a meeting with the representatives of Kosovo Serbs.

At that time, Serbs announced to Vučić the possibility of them withdrawing from all Pristina institutions „if the persecution of the Serbs does not cease“, which he talked about during almost his entire address, while failing to provide instructions to the citizens on what they should do.

The first official instructions about the license plates could be heard the next day, at the meeting of the municipality in Zvecan, where 62 councilors adopted conclusions, one of which read:

„We call on our fellow citizens not to fall into the trap of unilateral decisions and tempting offers by Albin Kurti regarding license plates and IDs, as this is not in accordance with the agreement in Brussels. Moreover, Pristina uses this issue as the beginning of the final reckoning with the Serbian people and Serbia in these areas.“

sednica zvečan
FOTO: KoSSev

They also agreed to give all their support to the Serbian president to find a solution, and on the eve of the new deadline, Vučić said that an agreement on the plates had not been reached, but that „Serbia will not give up on them.“

We will not give up Serbia’s statehood in Kosovo. Full stop

The first (re)registrations and the first cases of arson

On September 1st, however, the first re-registrations of Serbian license plates to RKS took place in Prizren, and on the 3rd of that month, the Serbian president received information that by that day two car owners had (re)registered their vehicles.

„They are doing great. Everyone is waiting in line to support Kurti’s ideas, we’ll see,“ said Vučić ironically at the time, estimating that there would be no more than 200 re-registrations.

Pristina interpreted his statements to be the drawing of a target. The head of the Kosovo MIA waited until the 19th, when the first vehicle with the new RKS was set on fire in Leposavic, to point a finger at Belgrade and Serbian „illegal structures“.

The day after this arson, in that same municipality, another car was set on fire on the day it was re-registered to RKS, as well as a warehouse in the municipality of Zvecan, allegedly owned by a man who (re)registered his son’s car.

Pristina repeated messages that those who do not replace these license plates by the end of October will be fined and banned from moving. While the other side kept underlining: „We will not give up the Serbian license plates and they will remain.“

Local officials were also encouraged to send the same messages.

„We will not give up our plates. No one will register at the registration centers and submit a request for registration,“ said Milan Radojević, the then mayor of the North Mitrovica municipality.

During all this time, the construction of four bases of Special Police Units in the municipalities of Leposavic and Zubin Potok went almost unnoticed by the general public.

Baza Jarinje Specijalci KP policija
FOTO: KoSSev

Vučić sent out messages that a solution is still being sought, that he is advocating that Serbs be issued KS plates and that „they don’t have to have KM“. In this same address, after another meeting with Srpska Lista, he emphasized: „There is no surrender, KM remains“.

Implementation of the decision on plates in phases, Serbs leave the institutions

In the first 30 days of the deadline, only nine vehicles were re-registered to RKS license plates, then three more, and Pristina received a request from a US official to postpone the deadline by as many as 10 months.

However, Pristina only partially agreed to it. Before the expiration of the deadline, they decided to implement it in phases until April 21, 2023 – first warnings, then fines and temporary plates and finally the complete removal of plates issued by Serbia for towns in Kosovo.

When the instructions on the phased implementation reached the police stations in the north, whose employees were still mostly ethnic Serbs, the then commander for the region north, Nenad Djurić, announced in front of select media outlets that his policemen would not apply it – „that they would not warn and punish“.

FOTO: Printscreen/Youtube/Kosovoonline

The Police Inspectorate of Kosovo soon suspended Djurić.

Two days later, with the message „Enough is enough“, following Djurić’s footsteps, all the Serbian policemen in the municipality of Zvecan took off their uniforms of the Kosovo Police. Then, the rest of the Serbs from the north of Kosovo, including those employed in the judiciary and local self-governments, left most of the Kosovo institutions, and for a short time the central government as well.

policajci sever uniforme
FOTO: KoSSev

Ten deputies of SL in the Kosovo Assembly also left this institution in this same period, only to be replaced ten days later, to the shock of the public, by other deputies, most of whom came from this same party. They are still part of the Kosovo Assembly.

In Belgrade, Vučić decorated two former commanders of the Kosovo Police. During that time, Kurti urged the Serbs not to leave the institutions. At the same time, he refused to accept their demands – to withdraw the decision on re-registration and to form the ASM. These demands were presented at a large rally held in North Mitrovica.

The withdrawal from Kosovo institutions, after a difficult struggle for the integration of Serbs into them as per the Brussels Agreement, triggered many negative reactions from the international community, which sought responsibility for it on both sides. At the same time, the opposition in Kosovo criticized Kurti, while the opposition in Belgrade blamed the politics of Aleksandar Vučić. The two leaders pointed a finger at each other.

New local elections are announced in the north

„I don’t even want to think that Vučić can cause new elections in Kosovo,“ the President of the Kosovo Assembly, Glauk Konjufca, reacted at the time. In the following days, Vjosa Osmani held meetings with political parties to determine the date for the extraordinary local elections in the north.

A message immediately arrived from Belgrade that the Serbs will not be participating in these elections.

Graffiti appeared again, now with a call for resistance from November 21, when the second phase of the decision on plates actually began – fines: „From November 21, it is everyone’s duty to resist at every step.“

Very quickly, Pristina officially announced new local elections – for mayors and municipal assemblies, the first date – December 18, that is, December 25. Srpska Lista immediately revealed that they would not participate in them, nor, as they said at the time, would „citizens who support them.“ Their conditions were that the decision on the plates be repealed, but also that the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities be formed.

Ahead of November 21, the EU demands that Serbia stop issuing KM plates, and that Pristina calls off the fines

Before fines for license plates began to be issued, Kurti and Vučić traveled to Brussels, where the EU presented to them the following request:

„Borrell asked Pristina not to punish, and that we no longer issue KM plates – that’s fine for us.“

A woman-only protest was held in North Mitrovica right before the implementation of the fines.

The very next day, Vučić officially announced from the Serbian presidency that Serbia will no longer issue or renew plates with markings of towns in Kosovo, that is, as he then presented to the public:

„People will have KM plates, they will have KM, we will not issue new ones, but they will not issue any fines either, they will not carry out actions, so that we have enough time to talk.“ Vučić agreed to that, at the same time emphasizing that Pristina did not agree on its part of the obligations.

Although with a reduced capacity in the north, the Kosovo Police announces that it will start issuing fines the next day, which was postponed once again at the last minute, for 48 hours, at the urging of the US ambassador Jeffrey Hovenier.

The main negotiators Besnik Bilimi and Petar Petković went to Brussels at the same time. Crisis diplomacy managed to yield an agreement on plates – Serbia no longer issues KM plates, and Pristina stops implementing its decision, that is, it will not punish drivers who have them. However, the deadline for (re)registration with benefits still applied.

petković lajčak bisljimi
FOTO: Tviter/Miroslav Lajčak

Despite the fact that KM plates will no longer be issued and that the last ones would expire next year, on the day of reaching this agreement, the catchphrase „No surrender – KM remains“ seemed not to lose its meaning for the Serbian side. Petković and Srpska Lista portray the agreement as a success:

„We saved our KM plates, Serbs can rest peacefully”; “We asked for KM plates to remain, not that their numbers increase.“

„They remain in use for our citizens in the north of Kosovo as it was the case before. This means that all car owners who have KM will be able to register their vehicles normally and extend the validity of KM plates.“

„I am proud that we managed to preserve the peace in the week behind us,“ Aleksandar Vučić said.

The Government of Serbia officially adopts the Decree on plates, which confirms that KM will no longer be issued, but neither will registration stickers, but that registrations will only be extended.

The decree stated that this would be „sufficient proof for driving“, but without specifying in which territory vehicles with a certificate of technical inspection and a policy will be able to operate. Their promise was that these vehicles would be able to move „as they did before“.

In this same period, a new plan supported by Germany and France for the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia appears for the first time in the Albanian media. Six months later, this plan will become the European Agreement that both parties have accepted.

Riots due to the arrival of CEC representatives in the north – a reason for a cordon of police from other regions to enter the north

The local governments in North Mitrovica and Zubin Potok, which were abandoned by the Serbs, are automatically filled by councilors, the majority of whom are ethnic Albanians.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) is preparing for the elections, and the first major incident broke out when the new members of the municipal election commission arrived in their offices in the north, which were used by Serbs until the beginning of November.

Four of these officers, accompanied by the Kosovo Police, came to the offices in the North on December 6 of last year.

Their arrival was followed by an air-raid siren in Zubin Potok and North Mitrovica, which could be heard for hours. A gathered group of Serbs, some of whom were masked, prevented them from entering their offices.

Explosive devices were used, but no one was injured. Everything calmed down when the MEC officers left the scene. The offices of the MEC were destroyed, and the CEC announced that holding the elections in those conditions was not possible.

This week, the Kosovo Special Prosecutor’s Office charged four people with the crime of „committing a terrorist act.“

FOTO: KoSSev

This served as a reason for Pristina to, the very next day, a little more than a month after the Serbs left the Kosovo Police in the north, dispatch a cordon of police in North Mitrovica. These policemen, ethnic Albanians, came from other police regions, and the goal of this was the protection of ethnically mixed parts of the town.

kosovska policija bošnjačka
FOTO: KoSSev
The arrest of Pantić, the December barricades, the elections postponed to April

Not long after, on December 10, a former Kosovo policeman, Dejan Pantić, was arrested in Jarinje, in connection with the attack on the offices of the MEC.

On at least 10 locations in the north, barricades were erected again on the same day, and Serbia, for the first time in 23 years, sent a request to KFOR for the return of some members of the Serbian Army and the Serbian police, which was rejected.

In the following days, minor incidents occurred, two more arrests took place, barricades were still installed, schools were closed, crossings blocked, and the elections in the North were postponed until April this year.

barikade Rudare
FOTO: KoSSev

Police checkpoint on the Bistrica bridge

At the same time, a checkpoint was set up on the Bistrica Bridge, where the Special Unit is on duty.

FOTO: KoSSev

The condition for the barricades to be removed was the release of the first arrested ex-policeman. Masked people began appearing at the barricades more often, prompting EULEX to react, and Pristina demanded that „Civil Protection“ and „Northern Brigade“ be declared „terrorist organizations“ with claims that masked persons are part of these organizations. They were declared as such the following months.

After 18 days, the Kosovo authorities placed Pantić under house arrest, and the Serbian president, after another meeting in Raska, announced the decision taken by Serbs from the north of Kosovo to remove the barricades the next day. He allegedly received guarantees that those who participated in the barricades would not be arrested.

The topic that disturbs the residents of the north in the past days is the summons of the Department for violent crimes of the Special Prosecutor’s Office of Kosovo to dozens of Serbs for questioning as suspects, as it is believed, precisely because of the barricades.

The beginning of 2023, the focus is on plates again, new car arson

The problem continues where it started. After the de-escalation of the situation around the barricades, Xhelal Svecla, now publicly announced that the Decree of the Government of Serbia on license plates will not apply in Kosovo, that is, vehicles with expired registration will no longer be able to operate in Kosovo.

Those vehicles became unusable, as they could only be operated within Kosovo or Serbia, without the possibility of crossing the border.

The new EU plan is accepted

On the diplomatic scene, on February 27, Vučić and Kurti accepted the Franco-German plan – „Agreement on normalization between Kosovo and Serbia“. On March 18, they also accepted its Annex. It turned out that thus Pristina is strictly being asked for the ASM, and Serbia for the de facto recognition of Kosovo’s independence.

In April, the deadline for (re)registration came to an end, and the number of citizens who decided to switch to RKS plates has not been precisely determined. At least seven vehicles were set on fire during that period, mostly in the municipality of Leposavic.

Vučić declared that the Serbs did not even expect an answer from him about what to do with the plates. The license plates issue was soon overshadowed by the new local elections.

Serb-boycotted elections are held, the management of northern municipalities is taken over by Albanians – new riots and ongoing barricades

Srpska Lista did not register for the elections on April 23. At the same time, the majority of Serbs from the north did not participate in them either. The conditions they placed forward now, apart from the ASM, also included the withdrawal of the Special Units from the north.

However, even the small turnout did not affect the fact that the leadership positions in four municipalities were taken by ethnic Albanians, namely – Erden Atić in North Mitrovica, Ilir Peci in Zvecan, Lulzim Hetemi in Leposavic and Izmir Zeqiri in Zubin Potok.

The first arrival of three of the four of them, in the municipal premises that were shared by the Serbian and Kosovo systems, on a day when a large part of the Serbs from Kosovo were attending the SNS rally in Belgrade, caused riots.

FOTO: KoSSev

The most critical situation was recorded in Zvecan. New mayors along with Special Units occupied these municipal buildings. Serbian flags were removed from municipal buildings and Kosovo flags were installed.

However, due to unrest and protest of the Serbs – two of the three mayors (in Zvecan and Zubin Potok) left these buildings on the same day and continued to perform their functions from alternative premises.

However, on May 29, a clash broke out between Serbs and KFOR in front of the municipality of Zvecan. Over 90 soldiers of the NATO mission were injured, three of them sustained gunshot wounds. On the other hand, one Serb was also shot, and several dozen others suffered minor injuries.

FOTO: KoSSev

Since then, there have been barricades in front of this municipality. Former employees of this municipality and other Serbian institutions in Kosovo are taking turns at protesting.

In connection with these clashes, eight Serbs were arrested, five of whom were released. KFOR and NATO officially announced that this is the highest number of injured soldiers since 1999 in Kosovo.

Arrest of Milun Milenković in Mitrovica and three Kosovo police officers in Raska

The air-raid siren sounded again in mid-June, when Milun Milenković was arrested in downtown North Mitrovica in connection with the riots in front of the MEC office in December 2022.

The very next day, the Serbian police arrested three Kosovo policemen. The Kosovo government orally introduces a ban on the entry of Serbian goods into Kosovo. This decision is still in force, and the three policemen were soon released by Serbia.

The European Union is now asking Pristina to take steps towards de-escalation – for the special police to leave the municipal buildings, the mayors to perform their duties from alternative locations and to call new local elections, while Belgrade is being asked to influence Serbs to participate in them unconditionally.

Banjska – a turnaround

International officials almost unanimously placed the blame for the new crisis surrounding the municipalities on Pristina, accusing it a unilateral action of the mayor’s intrusion despite their calls not to occupy these buildings by force. Punitive measures have also been introduced to Kosovo, with rumors that they will be increased. However, everything changed in September with Banjska.

In the night between September 23 and September 24, a member of the Kosovo Police, Afrim Bunjaku, was killed in an ambush in this village. A holy site dating from the 14th century was also targeted, into which the paramilitary group broke into, first into the inn, driving out pilgrims, and then into the monastery complex itself, breaking the gate and practically, drawing the SOC into the conflict. In a day-long clash between the Special Units of the KP and an armed and uniformed paramilitary group of Serbs, three people were killed. All three were Serbs from the north.

banjska dron
FOTO: Printscreen/Klan Kosova

This group, as he later admitted, was led by Milan Radoičić, the then vice-president of SL, with claims that he organized this attack by himself. An arsenal of weapons, vehicles, armored vehicles worth 5 million euros was seized, and three Serbs were arrested.

Although Vučić denied the responsibility of Serbia on the same day, and placed the blame on the Serbs from the north, Pristina from then on launched an offensive about the „terrorist attack“ and „act of aggression of Serbia on Kosovo“.

Serbian authorities detained Radoičić for one day, then released him. By the time this text was published, the Pristina authorities, through UNMIK, requested from INTERPOL a red warrant notice for Radoičić and 20 other Serbs.

Srpska Lista demands that new elections be called

Srpska Lista did not react to new deadlines and mass (re)registration, but now, without setting conditions or reminding of those they had previously set and which were not fulfilled, they decided to ask Pristina to call new local elections in the north. Not long after, the leadership of this party also changed.

With the new Administrative Instruction, Pristina offers the possibility to hold elections through citizens’ petition, with the emphasis that the current mayors will not resign. This week, it was confirmed that Pristina will not make this easy either.

Pristina gives a new deadline for (re)registration, it is extended due to great interest

Only 20 days after Banjska events, to that village, badly traumatized, the old theme which launched everything has now returned.

The Kosovo Police Directorate North asked the Kosovo government to once again extend the deadline for license plates, or (re)registration, first by a month and then by another 15 days, due to the great interest in replacing license plates.

Unlike before, this deadline extension was accompanied by a massive wave of (re)registrations. At the same time, so far there have been no reported problems and attempts to disrupt (re)registration.

FOTO: KoSSev

Today, on the eve of the last deadline, the data shows that more than 4,000 vehicles have been (re)registered in total.

On the streets of northern municipalities, there are almost no KM plates anymore. And if there are any left, it will no longer be possible to use vehicles with such plates as of tomorrow. The police will warn the drivers, fine them, and then punish those who ignore this by confiscating their vehicles.

What does the day after tomorrow bring? Fateful elections in Serbia – for the president himself and the structure he defends. „I am guilty of the fact that not everyone lives well, because I deal with Kosovo and look for ways to preserve it“ – reads just one of the confessions of Aleksandar Vučić this week.

„It’s a good thing that a K out of Kosovo remained,“ he said this week. It seems that he forgot to add that the license plates from the town on the Ibar, not even a K, remained.

Maybe soon they will say that the Serbs from the north are also to blame for this. Why did you change the plates?



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