JARINJE – Soldiers with a NATO-led peacekeeping mission are keeping watch at the Kosovo-Serbia border after the two countries reached a deal to deescalate tensions triggered by a dispute over vehicle license plates.
Kosovo Force troops from the United States, Italy and Poland were seen patrolling Saturday as ethnic Serbs removed the trucks they had used to block the road to two border crossings while protesting the Kosovo government's decision not to allow vehicles with Serbian license plates into the country.
Kosovar special police forces also pulled back from the border, where they were deployed two weeks ago to remove the license plates from entering cars and to replace them with temporary registration in Kosovo.
The government in Pristina said they were replicating what Serbia had done to Kosovar motorists for a decade. Kosovo was a Serbian province before it declared independence in 2008, and Serbian troops and ethnic Albanian separatists fought a bloody war in Kosovo during the 1990s.
European Union mediator Miroslav Lajcak persuaded representatives from the neighboring Balkan nations this week to let the Kosovo Force (KFOR) troops take over the areas for the next 14 days.
“As from this weekend and for the next two weeks, KFOR will maintain a temporary robust and agile presence in the area,” a statement from the NATO mission said.
As part of the agreement, both countries will put stickers over the other's name and emblem on license plates of vehicles entering their territory.
KFOR, made up of around 4,000 troops from 28 countries, is led by NATO with support from the United Nations, the European Union and others. Its aim is to stave off lingering ethnic tensions between Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority and minority ethnic Serbs.
The United States and most of the West recognize Kosovo's independence, but, Serbia, supported by its allies Russia and China, does not.
EU-facilitated negotiations to normalize relations between Pristina and Belgrade started in 2011 and have produced more than 30 agreements, which are either observed poorly or not at all.
Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.