2021 North Kosovo crisis

Last updated

2021 North Kosovo crisis
Part of the Kosovo dispute
Locations of barricades and traffic blocks are shown as Yellow ffff80 pog.svg and bolded, while locations of attacked offices are shown as Purple pog.svg and italicised. Pristina is the capital city of Kosovo.
Date20 September – 2 October 2021
(1 week and 5 days)
Location
Caused byOpposition to the Kosovan government's decision to ban Serbian license plates
Goals Legalisation of Serbian license plates
Methods
Resulted inAgreement in Brussels:
  • Withdrawal of Kosovo Police from Jarinje and Brnjak
  • KFOR started patrolling North Kosovo
  • Agreement on sticker regime
    • Serbian plates again legal in Kosovo, Kosovar plates legal in Serbia, as long as the national symbols are covered with a sticker
  • End of protests
Parties to the civil conflict

Flag of Kosovo.svg  Kosovo

Lead figures
Number
Hundreds of civilian protesters

Triggered by the Government of Kosovo's decision to ban Serbian license plates, a series of protests by Serbs in North Kosovo—consisting mostly of blocking traffic near border crossings—began on 20 September 2021. The ban meant that individuals who owned vehicles with Serbian license plates in Kosovo [a] would have had to switch for Kosovar license plates at a government vehicle registration center. The ban was intended to mirror a prohibition against Kosovar license plates that had been imposed by Serbia since 2008. The Government of Serbia does not recognise Kosovo's independence and considers the Kosovo–Serbia border to be temporary.

Contents

During the crisis, two government vehicle registration centers in Zvečan and Zubin Potok were targeted by arsonists. The protests caused relations between Serbia and Kosovo—which had been improving—to worsen, and led to the Serbian Armed Forces being placed on heightened alert. Both sides accused the other of great overreach. International powers, particularly the European Union and NATO, called for de-escalation, while Russia criticised Kosovo.

On 30 September, an agreement was reached to end the license plate ban, taking effect on 4 October. In return, the protesters agreed to disperse. Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, Kosovar license plates in Serbia and Serbian license plates in Kosovo now have their national symbols and country codes covered with a temporary sticker.

Background

North Kosovo is majority Serb and has been a region largely opposed to an independent Kosovo, with frequent protests since Kosovo declared independence. It has not recognised the Government of Kosovo and acted independently of it prior to the 2013 Brussels Agreement. According to the Brussels Agreement, by 2016 the Community of Serb Municipalities was to be formed. The Community would be a self–governing association of municipalities with a Serbian majority in Kosovo. As of 2021, it has not yet formed, because of the Government of Kosovo suspended the application of this part of the Brussels Agreement. Kosovo's Constitutional Court declared it to be unconstitutional. [3] [4] [5]

Up until 2011, Serbia issued Serbian license plates for towns in North Kosovo. In the 2011 round of Belgrade–Pristina negotiations, Serbia agreed to stop issuing these license plates. Part of the deal is that they should be changed for Republic of Kosovo (RKS) license plates or neutral Kosovo (KS) plates. The KS license plates do not bear any state symbols. Serbia has allowed KS license plates on its territory, but not RKS license plates. The agreement lasted 5 years until 2016, when it was expected that a better solution would be found. The same terms were renewed on 14 September 2016 and were valid until 14 September 2021. After 14 September 2021, the conditions remained the same, but a ban on Serbian license plates was issued in Kosovo on 20 September 2021. [6] The KS license plates, used by some vehicles, were also invalidated by the Government of Kosovo. This affected some of their owners who often had to travel across the Kosovo–Serbia border. [7] [8]

The motive of the Kosovan government's ban had been to mirror the former policy of the Serbian Government that banned Republic of Kosovo (RKS) license plates. Vehicles with RKS license plates in Serbia had to switch them for temporary Serbian plates. [9] Vehicles with Serbian license plates in Kosovo were supposed to, up to the 30 September 2021 Agreement in Brussels, have their Serbian license plates taken off and switched for Kosovar license plates at a government vehicle registration center. Drivers who had visited the country with Serbian license plates had to get temporary plates. The temporary plates cost a 5 euro (2021 value) tax and were valid for 60 days. [10] [11] The ban would have reportedly impacted around 9,500 vehicles with Serbian license plates in North Kosovo which were to have to wear permanent Kosovar license plates. [12] This was originally supposed to be done after the 2011 agreement, but no attempts were made to enforce it. [6]

Protests

The protests organised by the Kosovo Serbs against the Kosovan government began on 20 September 2021. [13] On the same day, over 20 vehicles of the Kosovo Police, of which over 10 were armoured, came to the site of the protests. [14] Hundreds of local ethnic Serbs had been protesting daily. [15] They were blocking the roads leading to the two border crossings with Serbia in North Kosovo, near Jarinje and Brnjak, with vehicles and barricades reinforced by gravel. On 23 September 2021 the vehicle traffic block on the MitrovicaRaška road in Jarinje reached 3 kilometres in length. Protesters were sleeping next to the protest sites in improvised tents. Representatives of the Serb List also attended the protests. [16]

Banner put up by Serbs in support of the protests in Strpce, Novo Brdo, and Ranilug, citing: "Welcome to the Community of Serb Municipalities" Zsobaner.png
Banner put up by Serbs in support of the protests in Štrpce, Novo Brdo, and Ranilug, citing: "Welcome to the Community of Serb Municipalities"

The protests had been mostly nonviolent. [10] [18] However, on 25 September 2021, two government vehicle registration centers in Zvečan and Zubin Potok were attacked by arson, and reportedly with hand grenades that failed to explode. [19] [20] On 23 September 2021, it was reported that the Kosovo Police injured three Serbs who were not protesting, two of whom were hospitalized. The Kosovo Police denied involvement and said that it's "disinformation". [21] [22] According to the agreement between Kosovo and Serbia mediated by the European Union (EU) Representative for the Balkan–Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák in Brussels, reached on 30 September 2021, the Kosovar special police withdrew by 16:00 local time on 2 October 2021. Along with this, the barricades set up by the protesters were removed by local Serbs and the traffic blocks ended, leading to border traffic resuming. The Kosovo Force (KFOR), a NATO-led international peacekeeping force, replaced the police units and was present for the next two weeks. [23] [24]

Government responses

Serbia

The decision to ban Serbian license plates and the ongoing protests prompted Serbian authorities to raise the combat readiness of the Serbian Armed Forces on the border with Kosovo. [18] The army started transporting military equipment to the border area, including its fighter jets, helicopters, and tanks, on 26 September 2021. [25] The President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić has described Kosovo's license plate ban as a "criminal action". [26] He made the withdrawal of Kosovar special police a condition for starting EU-mediated negotiations to resolve the dispute. [26]

Kosovo

The Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti has accused Serbia of "inciting and supporting" the attacks on government buildings. [27] He also accused Serbia of "exploiting Kosovo citizens to provoke a serious international conflict." [27] The attacks were described by the Interior Ministry of Kosovo as "having terrorist elements". [27] The mayors of majority Serbian municipalities on 27 September also requested a withdrawal of the units and more KFOR troops, citing the incident on 23 September 2021 when 3 Serbs were injured as a concern. [27] The special police units withdrew as part of the 30 September 2021 Agreement in Brussels on 2 October 2021. [23] [24]

Agreement to end the ban

On 30 September 2021, an agreement was reached in Brussels that effectively ended the ban on Serbian license plates, starting 08:00 local time, 4 October 2021. The agreement also effectively ended the ban on Kosovar license plates in Serbia. The agreement is intended as a temporary solution. The solution is to cover the national symbols of Kosovo on Kosovar RKS license plates in Serbia, as well as to cover the national symbols of Serbia on Serbian license plates in Kosovo and their country codes RKS and SRB with a sticker. A working group was formed and met on 21 October 2021 in Brussels for the first time, to try and find a permanent solution in accordance with EU standards. Within 6 months, the negotiators and delegations will present their proposals for the permanent solution. [23] [28] [29] [30]

International reactions

On 26 September 2021, Russian diplomats together with the Serbian Defense Minister Nebojša Stefanović visited an inspection of Serbian forces in the military base of Rudnica. Rudnica is a few kilometres away from the Kosovo–Serbia border. [31] In October, Russia deployed air defense forces to Serbia for a joint military exercise called "Slavic Shield 2021" to practise anti-aircraft actions. [32] On 27 September 2021, KFOR stepped up the amount and duration of its patrols. The increase is most notable near the border crossings, moving armored vehicles close to protesters' border blocks. [11]

The European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs, the NATO Secretary General, the President of the European Council, and the President of the European Commission called for both parties to de–escalate and sit in talks following the increased tensions. [33] [34] On 27 September 2021, Spokeswoman of Russia's Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova criticised the conduct of Kosovo. She has called for NATO and the EU mission to pressure Kosovo into retreating its security personnel as to "prevent escalation". [35] On 27 September 2021, the Russian Embassy in Serbia has approved of the conduct of the Government of Serbia in the tensions, saying Serbia "is showing the greatest responsibility and restraint". Russia has described Kosovo's actions as "provocative". [36]

Notes

a. ^ Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia . The Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on 17 February 2008. Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory . The two governments began to normalise relations in 2013, as part of the 2013 Brussels Agreement . Kosovo is currently recognised as an independent state by 97 out of the 193 United Nations member states . In total, 112 UN member states have recognised Kosovo at some point, of which 15 later withdrew their recognition.

Related Research Articles

Kosovo War 1998–1999 armed conflict in Kosovo

The Kosovo War was an armed conflict in Kosovo that started 28 February 1998 and lasted until 11 June 1999. It was fought by the forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which controlled Kosovo before the war, and the Kosovo Albanian rebel group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The conflict ended when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) intervened by beginning air strikes in March 1999 which resulted in Yugoslav forces withdrawing from Kosovo.

NATO bombing of Yugoslavia March–June 1999 NATO military operation in Yugoslavia

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) carried out an aerial bombing campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War. The air strikes lasted from 24 March 1999 to 10 June 1999. The bombings continued until an agreement was reached that led to the withdrawal of Yugoslav armed forces from Kosovo, and the establishment of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, a UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. The official NATO operation code name was Operation Allied Force whereas the United States called it Operation Noble Anvil; in Yugoslavia the operation was incorrectly called Merciful Angel as a result of a misunderstanding or mistranslation.

International vehicle registration code Codes used to identify where a vehicle is registered

The country in which a motor vehicle's vehicle registration plate was issued may be indicated by an international licence plate country code, formerly known as an International Registration Letter or International Circulation Mark. It is referred to as the Distinguishing sign of the State of registration in the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic of 1949 and the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic of 1968.

Kosovo Force NATO-led international peacekeeping force

The Kosovo Force (KFOR) is a NATO-led international peacekeeping force in Kosovo. Its operations are gradually reducing until Kosovo's Security Force, established in 2009, becomes self sufficient.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 1999 resolution establishing Kosovos UNMIK

United Nations Security Council resolution 1244, adopted on 10 June 1999, after recalling resolutions 1160 (1998), 1199 (1998), 1203 (1998) and 1239 (1999), authorised an international civil and military presence in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and established the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). It followed an agreement by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević to terms proposed by President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari and former Prime Minister of Russia Viktor Chernomyrdin on 8 June, involving withdrawal of all Yugoslav state forces from Kosovo.

Albin Kurti Kosovar politician; Prime Minister of Kosovo (2020, 2021-)

Albin Kurti is a Kosovar Albanian politician and activist serving as the prime minister of Kosovo since 22 March 2021, having previously served in that role between February and June 2020. He came to prominence in 1997 as the vice-president of the University of Prishtina student union, and a main organizer of non-violent demonstrations in 1997 and 1998. When Adem Demaçi became the political representative of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), Kurti worked in his office. He has been member of the Assembly of Kosovo since 2010 in three consecutive legislatures.

Aleksandar Vučić President of Serbia

Aleksandar Vučić is a Serbian politician serving as the president of Serbia since 2017 and as the president of the populist Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) since 2012.

Vehicle registration plates of Kosovo are issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Kosovo. As of June 1, 2012, all citizens of Kosovo are obliged to fit their cars with KS or RKS plates. Non-compliance results in confiscation of the non-Kosovan plates and legal charges.

The 2008 Kosovo declaration of independence was adopted at a meeting held on 17 February 2008 by 109 out of the 120 members of the Assembly of Kosovo, including the Prime Minister of Kosovo and by the President of Kosovo. It was the second declaration of independence by Kosovo's Albanian-majority political institutions; the first was proclaimed on 7 September 1990.

Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija Autonomous province in Serbia

Kosovo and Metohija commonly known as Kosovo and abbreviated to Kosmet or KiM, is an autonomous province that occupies the southernmost part of Serbia. The territory is the subject of an ongoing political and territorial dispute between Serbia and the partially recognised, self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo, the latter of which has de facto control over most of the region. Its administrative capital and largest city is Priština.

2008 protests against Kosovo declaration of independence 2008 protests against Kosovo declaration of independence

Widespread protests and riots in Serbia and North Kosovo followed the proclamation of independence by the Republic of Kosovo on February 17, 2008. Protests were also held by Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.

2008 unrest in Kosovo

The 2008 unrest in Kosovo followed Kosovo's declaration of independence on February 17, 2008. Some Kosovo Serbs opposed to secession boycotted the move by refusing to follow orders from the central government in Pristina and attempted to seize infrastructure and border posts in Serb-populated regions. There were also sporadic instances of violence against international institutions and governmental institutions, predominantly in North Kosovo.

Croatia–Kosovo relations Bilateral relations

Croatia–Kosovo relations refer to the bilateral relations of Croatia and Kosovo. Diplomatic relations among two countries were established on June 30, 2008, following Kosovo's declaration of independence. Croatia has an embassy in Prishtina, and Kosovo has an embassy in Zagreb. Both countries were part of Yugoslavia from 1918 to 1991. Relations between the two countries are described as very good and friendly.

Albania–Kosovo relations Bilateral relations

Albania–Kosovo relations refer to the current, cultural and historical relations of Albania and Kosovo. Albania has an embassy in Pristina and Kosovo has an embassy in Tirana. There are 1.8 million Albanians living in Kosovo - officially 92.93% of Kosovo's entire population - and Albanian is an official language and the national language of Kosovo. Likewise, the peoples of the two countries share common traditions and folklore.

Kosovo–Serbia relations Bilateral relations

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move which Serbia rejects. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state and continues to claim it as the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija. Initially there were no relations between the two; however, in the following years there has been increased dialogue and cooperation between the two sides.

The Belgrade–Pristina dialogue is a series of EU-facilitated talks between the governments of Serbia and Kosovo. Serbia claims Kosovo as its southern province under United Nations administration, and rejects its independence. Kosovo considers Serbia as a neighboring state. The negotiations began in March 2011, three years after Kosovo declared independence. They are the first negotiations between the two entities since Kosovo declared independence in February 2008.

North Kosovo crisis (2011–2013)

Clashes between the Republic of Kosovo and ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo began on 25 July 2011 when the Kosovo Police crossed into the Serb-controlled municipalities of North Kosovo, to control several administrative border crossings. This was done without the Kosovo Police consulting either Serbia or Kosovo Force (KFOR)/EULEX. Though tensions between the two sides eased somewhat after the intervention of NATO's KFOR forces, they remained high amid concern from the European Union, which also blamed Kosovo for the unilateral provocation. On 19 April 2013, an agreement was signed in Brussels between representatives of Kosovo and Serbia. The 15-point document granted devolved powers to North Kosovo regarding economic development, education, healthcare and urban planning, and several mechanisms that allowed a certain autonomy in justice, policing and electoral matters.

The Brussels Agreement, formally the First Agreement of Principles Governing the Normalisation of Relations, is a treaty proposed to normalize relations between the governments of Serbia and Kosovo. The agreement, negotiated and concluded in Brussels under the auspices of the European Union, was signed on 19 April 2013. Negotiations were led by Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dačić and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi, mediated by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton. The government of Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state, but began normalising relations with the government of Kosovo as a result of the agreement. Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić said in 2018 that the agreement is a difficult compromise for Serbia, which Vučić said had met all of its obligations.

Slaviša Ristić Serbian politician

Slaviša Ristić is a Serbian politician. He is a prominent figure in the Kosovo Serb community and was for many years the president of the municipality of Zubin Potok, a predominantly Serb community in northern Kosovo on the border with Central Serbia. From 2016 to 2020, he was a member of the National Assembly of Serbia.

Branko Ninić is a Serbian politician. He is best known for serving as mayor of Leposavić, a Serb community in the disputed territory of Kosovo, from 2009 to 2012.

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