The announcements on the introduction of what the Kosovo authorities refer to as reciprocity – the abolition of Serbian plates bearing the marks of cities in Kosovo and the introduction of temporary plates for vehicles from Serbia, have been rampant for months, years even. The Kosovo authorities previously stressed that the decision is just a matter of implementing the previously reached agreements. Belgrade also claims to insist on the realization of the Brussels agreements, while accusing Pristina of unilateral implementation.
„After September 14th, no vehicle in Kosovo will be allowed to carry ‘KS’ license plates, but car owners will have to replace them with RKS license plates“ – the announcement arrived from Pristina in February this year.
Even at the time, the end of the five-year agreement, signed in September 2016 in Brussels, was cited as the reason behind this decision.
There was a noticeable lack of reaction from official Belgrade to the multiple announcements on the license plate reciprocity by the Kosovo government.
At this time last year, the Kosovo government announced that the owners of vehicles with KS license plates, when extending the vehicle registration, will no longer be able to use the same license plates, i.e. that they would have to switch to RKS license plates.
At that time, however, the five-year agreement to extend the use of KS plates until 2021 – when a new decision on the issue will be made – was still underway.
The agreement in a nutshell
The use of KS license plates is defined by the Agreement on Freedom of Movement from 2011, and the agreements signed in Brussels between the Belgrade and Pristina delegations within the implementation of the Agreement on Normalization of Relations as of September 14th, 2016.
Based on the original agreement, the owners of KS license plates were allowed to travel freely in or through the territory of Serbia, while the owners with RKS license plates were obliged to carry the temporary plates.
The four out of 11 points of the technical agreement reached between Belgrade and Pristina in 2011 state:
- As an interim measure, the authorities in Kosovo will extend the validity of KS vehicle license plates for an initial period of five years at the end of which the issue will be reviewed by the two parties (with the facilitation by the EU if required);
- All car owners residing in Kosovo will use either RKS or KS (as per bullet 6 above) vehicle license plates. These will be issued by the relevant authorities in Kosovo and distributed with facilitation by EULEX where required. Each party will do its best to ensure the implementation of above;
- As an interim measure, the authorities in Belgrade will enable vehicles from Kosovo bearing KS vehicle license plates to travel freely in or through its territory;
- As an interim measure, for every car owner who wishes, temporary vehicle license plates will be made available at the relevant border/boundary crossings.
Borko Stefanovic, now an opposition leader in Belgrade, negotiated on behalf of the Serbian side at the time when barricades were installed in the north of Kosovo after the then ROSU occupied the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings.
The negotiations concerned the removal of barricades, but they also played the role of a forerunner of the so-called Brussels Agreement, which integrated the north of Kosovo into Kosovo institutions.
Borko Stefanovic to Kosovo Serbs: The regime is lying to you
„The agreement reached in 2011 states that citizens with Kosovan plates, with the coat of arms and the flag of Kosovo, must use temporary plates when entering Serbia. In 2016, Vucic and Dacic approved for this to remain valid for another five years. That term is now over. The regime is lying to you. Explain to the Kosovo Serbs how you are ‘defending’ them,“ Stefanovic said today.
The current head of the Kosovo Office, Petar Petkovic, immediately reacted with a statement.
„Your deception is in vain when Albin Kurti denies your claims. You personally concluded two agreements that led to this situation with the plates. The first agreement was reached on July 2nd, 2011, on freedom of movement, and then the Operational Conclusions on freedom of movement on December 26th, 2011. Kurti is speaking of your ‘merits’ today,“ he stated.
Agreement to cover state symbols
Five years later, on September 8th, 2016, Petkovic’s predecessor Marko Djuric, the current ambassador of Serbia to the US, said from Brussels:
„We are now fighting against the abolition of our license plates. At the same time, we are fighting to make it possible for our citizens who use KS license plates to have an extension, because according to the 2011 agreement, the period for using those plates lasted five years and it is now coming to an end.“
At the time, Djuric said it would be preferable if the issue of plates was not linked to any status issues, noting that is what the Serbian side insists on in the talks.
„Let us not use cars, trucks, and means of transport as haulers of political messages. If we do not agree on the status, let’s cover those status symbols and enable people to travel normally,“ Djuric said back in 2016.
Immediately, the then head of the Kosovo negotiating delegation, Edita Tahiri, who shared her support of the latest action of Kurti’s government in the north, denied Djuric’s claims.
Tahiri then confirmed that „following nine hours of intensive talks“, an agreement on the reciprocity of license plates between „Kosovo and Serbia“ was reached, as well as an agreement on the removal of license plates with the inscription „temporary“ for vehicles entering the territory of central Serbia with RKS plates. The new model included the covering of state markings on plates.
Although denying that an agreement had been reached to cover these symbols, on the very same day, Marko Djuric stated: „If we do not agree on the status, let’s cover those status symbols and enable people to travel normally.“
From then until the date, the Kosovo side has repeatedly pointed out that this agreement is applied unilaterally, i.e. that only vehicles with RKS license plates had to cover these marks when entering central Serbia, while vehicles with Serbian license plates moved unimpeded across the territory of Kosovo. The issue of KS plates was resolved by extending their use by another 5 years.
Jarinje and Brnjak crossings blocked, temporary plates to be issued in Registration Centers as of tomorrow
The Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo, Besnik Bislimi, announced after he arrived from Brussels last week that the KS plates would cease to be valid from September 15th, while temporary RKS plates would be issued for vehicles from Serbia. Today, the Kosovo Police officially started removing these plates.
At the same time, special units of the Kosovo Police have been stationed near two crossings in the north of Kosovo – Jarinje and Brnjak, since early morning.
Members of the Kosovo Police previously installed several containers in the immediate vicinity of Jarinje on Sunday.
The traffic is blocked at both crossings, and passengers are crossing Jarinje and Brnjak on foot. So far, no incidents have been reported, with the exception of Brnjak, where KP threw tear gas at approximately 150 people at around 4:30p.m.
Mayor Srdjan Vulovic and Zvecan mayor candidate Dragisa Milovic were present at Brnjak, while Kosovo Minister for Communities and Returns Goran Rakic, North Mitrovica Mayor Milan Radojevic, Mayor Zoran Todic, and former mayor Slavko Simic were at Jarinje crossing.
As of tomorrow, citizens can take temporary license plates in all Vehicle Registration Centers, the Kosovo Ministry of Interior announced.
The people who are currently in Kosovo and want to return to central Serbia can use Serbian license plates. However, they must use temporary RKS plates while entering Kosovo and in traffic within Kosovo.
However, the fate of the vehicles with Serbian plates bearing the mark of cities in Kosovo, mostly used by Serbs in the north, remains unknown.
Despite multiple inquires, we were unable to obtain any information on the issue from Pristina.
Kosovo Interior Minister, Xhelal Svecla held an urgent press conference in Pristina today, emphasizing that the action was not meant to provoke or destabilize the situation.
„Dear citizens, it is not our intention to endanger the right of free movement of Serbs or any kind of provocation and destabilization,“ Svecla said, urging the citizens to stop blocking the roads.
The Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic also held a conference in Belgrade.
„We knew last night that Pristina was planning to station its special forces to the north, that this morning, shortly after 6 o’clock, those forces crossed into the territory of the north, and this is the sixth time they have done so, the most brutal incursion of about 350 people, with firearms, more than 20 armored vehicles and snipers stationed in many places,“ Vucic said.
Vucic scheduled an „emergency“ session of the National Security Council for tomorrow at 10 am on the events in Kosovo, Novosti daily reports. As this media outlet writes, Chief of General Staff, Serbian Armed Forces General, Milan Mojsilovic, was invited to tomorrow’s session, as well as the heads of all special units of the Serbian armed forces.
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