SRBICA, Serbia (AP) — On Saturday, the head of European Union foreign policy announced that Serbia and Kosovo had reached an agreement on how to resolve a dispute over their identity documents, thereby resolving one of the problems that had sparked the latest tensions between the former Balkan war foes.
With the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and Serbia’s close ties to Russia, the comments by Josep Borell come after a flurry of international diplomatic efforts to defuse concerns that the problems could escalate further.
Since 2008, Kosovo has been trying to establish itself as an independent nation from Serbia.
Late last month, tensions flared after the Kosovo government announced that identity documents and vehicle license plates issued by Serbia would no longer be valid in Kosovo. Due to Serbia’s continued refusal to recognize Kosovo’s independence, Kosovo ID holders have been required to obtain special passes in order to enter Serbia in recent years.
Officials in Kosovo said they would act in kind toward Serbia. However, Serbs in Kosovo reacted angrily, shutting down roads in the region. Belgrade has accused Kosovo of exerting pressure on northern Serbs, who hold Serbian documents rather than those issued by Kosovo.
The United States and the European Union have sent envoys to the region in the past two weeks in an effort to broker peace talks between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti in Brussels.
Borrell tweeted, “We have a deal.” “Serbia agreed to abolish entry/exit documents for Kosovo ID holders and Kosovo agreed to not introduce them for Serbian ID holders.”
Using their ID cards, “Kosovo Serbs and all other citizens” will be able to freely travel between Kosovo and Serbia, he added.
On Facebook, Kosovo’s president, Vlosa Osmani, characterized the agreement as fostering “reciprocity and equality.”
She went on to say that Kosovo will keep working toward “mutual recognition” and that “freedom of movement is the foundation of democratic societies and European values.”
Earlier on Saturday, Vucic told reporters that if the ID deal goes through, Serbia will issue a “general disclaimer” on the boundary, stating that allowing Kosovo ID cards to be used does not constitute Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo or its future status but is instead done for “practical reasons and freedom of movement.”
He did, however, note that the issue of many Kosovo Serbs continuing to use Serbian car registration plates is still unresolved.
Washington and the majority of EU members have recognized Kosovo’s independence, while Serbia has relied on support from Moscow and China in its bid to retain the former province. After NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 to stop its brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatist rebels, Belgrade was unable to regain control of Kosovo.
European Union officials have been mediating talks between Kosovo and Serbia for years in an effort to improve relations and speed up Kosovo’s application to join the EU.
As a result of the rising tensions, NATO peacekeepers have increased their presence in northern Kosovo.
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