US, EU envoys meet Kosovo PM in effort to avert tensions

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — U.S. and European Union envoys met with Kosovo’s prime minister on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to avert further tensions with Serbia after a meeting last week in Brussels ended with no agreement on a dispute between the former Balkan war foes.

Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo soared anew late last month when Kosovo’s government declared that Serb-issued identity documents and vehicle license plates would no longer be valid in Kosovo’s territory, as Kosovo-issued ones are not valid in Serbia.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence, and still considers the territory as its own.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has said he was acting with reciprocity to the measures from Serbia. But Kosovo Serbs responded furiously, blocking roads in the Serb-dominated north of Kosovo.

The incident has fueled fears of more unrest in the Balkans amid the uncertainties caused by the war in Ukraine. Kosovo has postponed the decision implementation until Sept. 1 as Washington and Brussels step up diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis.

U.S. envoy Gabriel Escobar and the EU’s Miroslav Lajcak traveled to Kosovo on Wednesday and will move on to the Serbian capital, Belgrade, on Thursday. It was not immediately clear how close the two sides were to an agreement after the EU-mediated meeting last week produced no breakthrough.

Kurti told reporters that the postponement by one month of the decision on license plates and identification documents was a “good will gesture.” He added that the decision won’t be changed and that either both sides will issue special travel documents for people going in and out, or neither will.

There was no immediate response from Serbia, which has accused Kurti of pressuring the minority Serbs in the north, who mainly refuse to obtain Kosovo documents or license plates, defying Kosovo’s statehood.

Kosovo’s independence has been recognized by Washington and most EU countries, while Serbia has relied on support from Russia and China for its bid to retain the former province. Belgrade lost control over Kosovo in 1999 after NATO bombed the country to stop its brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatist rebels.

For the past several years, the EU has mediated negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia to normalize relations, and move forward in efforts to join the European Union.

NATO peacekeepers have stepped up their presence in the north of Kosovo in response to the increased tensions.

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