President Aleksandar Vucic said after meeting the EU and US envoys for Kosovo, Miroslav Lajcak and Gabriel Escobar, in Belgrade on Thursday that the “talks were not easy” but efforts to find a deal to resolve tensions with Kosovo over vehicle licence plates will continue.
“We will continue the talks and I believe that in the days ahead we will be able to reach a compromise solution, at least for a small part [of the dispute],” said Vucic.
However that he warned that Belgrade and Pristina remain far apart on the issue and “regarding the licence plates and some major issues such a solution cannot be reached at all”.
Lajcak and Escobar visited Belgrade after Pristina as part of their attempt to bridge differences between Kosovo and Serbia ahead of September 1, when the Kosovo authorities intend to bring in regulations on vehicle licence plates and ID documents for border crossing which Serbs strongly oppose.
After a second round of meetings with Vucic on Thursday night, Lajcak said that he hoped that “we are on the right track”.
“I appreciate Serbian president sincere effort to support a European solution. Our talks will continue,” Lajcak wrote on Twitter.
US envoy Gabriel Escobar said that talks with Vucic were “tough and long”.
“We appreciate the President’s commitment to peace and stability. The work continues,” the US embassy posted on Twitter as Escobar’s statement.
Escobar and Lajcak also had talks on Thursday with representatives of Serbs in north Kosovo, but the meeting was closed to media.
There have already been protests over the licence plates issue and there are fears that there could be violent incidents on September 1 when Pristina intends to start imposing the new regulations.
The Kosovo government decided in June that anyone seeking to cross the state border using personal IDs issued by the Serbian authorities will now be issued temporary declaration forms valid for 90 days that replace their Serbian document.
The decision reciprocates Serbian authorities’ non-recognition of Kosovo-issued IDs, introducing the same measure as Serbia implements towards Kosovo citizens.
The dispute over licence plates escalated in June when the Kosovo government announced that drivers of all vehicles with plates issued by Serbia from June 10, 1999 until April 21, 2022 would have until September 30, 2022, to get RKS plates.
RKS stands for the Republic of Kosovo, but Serbia does not recognise Kosovo as independent.
The changes announced by the Kosovo government triggered renewed tensions at the end of July when Kosovo Serbs set up barricades and Kosovo police closed the country’s border crossings.
Serbian President Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Kurti discussed the issue at their unsuccessful meeting last Thursday but found no solution.
Finding a solution to the licence plate issue has proved problematic for more than a decade.
In 2011, Kosovo and Serbia reached an agreement under which Kosovo would issue licence plates marked both ‘RKS’ for the Republic of Kosovo and, in a concession to Serbia’s refusal to recognise its former province as a state, ‘KS’, denoting simply ‘Kosovo’.
In 2016, Kosovo extended the validity of KS plates for another five years but made the Serbian-issued licence plates for Kosovo cities illegal. Due to this, it was almost impossible to register such vehicles with RKS plates.
After the agreement expired in September 2021, the Kosovo government decided not to extend it, and police started to confiscate Serbian-issued licence plates.
The change angered local Serbs who blocked border crossings, until the dispute was temporarily eased by introducing a sticker system. A more permanent solution was supposed to be found by April 21 2022, but this did not happen.