Serbian MPs and police resign en masse in Kosovo over license plate squabble

Members of Kosovo’s Serbian ethnic minority resigned from their posts on Saturday to protest the sacking of a police officer who did not follow a government ruling on vehicle license plates.

The strikes followed the sacking of a senior Serbian police officer in northern Kosovo after he refused to change the license plates on his vehicle to those issued by Kosovo as required by a rule change.

The Pristina decision sparked controversies over Kosovo’s sovereignty, particularly among its Serbian minority, which live mainly in the north.

Many of the Kosovo Serbian minority want the former Serbian province to be part of Serbia, not independent. They do not recognize the authority of Pristina, the capital and center of power of Kosovo.

Serbia itself has never recognized Kosovo’s independence.

The license plate change came into effect on Tuesday. But Kosovo authorities said implementation would be gradual.

In the next three weeks, ethnic Serbs will be warned if they keep their old Serbian license plates. This will be followed by fines over the next two months, and then until April 31 they will only be able to drive with a temporary local license plate.

An ethnic Serbian government minister, 10 parliamentarians and police and judiciary officials all resigned in the four Serb-dominated areas.

Senior police officers symbolically took off their uniforms after a meeting on Saturday.

The effect of the mass resignations was unclear.

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti urged the Serbs “not to fall prey [to] political manipulations and geopolitical games “, urging them to remain loyal to the state.

Kurti said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was lying to US and European envoys, who tried to resolve their tensions, and “often meets and coordinates with the Russian ambassador in Belgrade”.

“Not being a democratic country, Serbia is becoming a tool of the Kremlin,” Kurti wrote on social media.

Vucic said Serbia is determined to vigorously defend its vital national interests.

Tensions emerged this summer after Serbia and Kosovo refused to recognize each other’s identity documents and vehicle license plates.

Kosovo Serbs in the north erected roadblocks, sounded anti-aircraft sirens and fired guns in the air.

In August, the EU and the US helped negotiate a solution to the travel document problem by granting a temporary respite to the situation.

The European Union has told Kosovo and Serbia that they must normalize relations if they want to join the bloc.

Brussels and Washington have recently stepped up efforts to mediate tensions, worried that concerns about the war in Ukraine and Serbia’s close ties with Russia could fuel the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo.

Kosovo became independent in 2008. Its sovereignty has been recognized by the United States and 100 UN members. Serbia has appealed to Moscow and China in an attempt to recapture the former province.

Belgrade lost control of Kosovo in 1999 after NATO bombed the country to stop its brutal crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.