Authorities in Kosovo have delayed the implementation of new rules that would ban Serbian license plates and other identification documents in a bid to ease tensions that rose as a result of the planned restrictions.
The restrictions would require ethnic Serbs in the north to apply for documents issued by Kosovo. Serbs in the area have used licenses issued by Serbia since Kosovo declared independence from Belgrade, and many refuse to recognize the authority of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.
The restrictions were set to be enacted with a 60-day transition period for Serbs to obtain Kosovo license places. Pristina was also set to enact a new rule requiring Serbs to get an extra document to enter Kosovo from Serbia starting August 1st.
The coming restrictions led to large protests in the north, and Serbs set roadblocks in the area, leading to Kosovo authorities closing the border crossings into Serbia in the villages of Bernjak and Jarinje. Air raid sirens were heard in the town of Mitrovica, which is mostly inhabited by Serbs.
After consulting with EU and US ambassadors in Kosovo, the government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti decided to delay the plan for one month. According to RT, the US ambassador in Kosovo, Jeffrey Hovenier, gave the recommendation to delay the restrictions.
Amid the heightened tensions, the NATO mission in Kosovo, known as the Kosovo Force (KFOR), described the situation as “tense” and said it was ready to intervene. “KFOR is prepared to intervene if stability is jeopardized in the north of Kosovo,” KFOR said in a press release.
NATO has had a presence in Kosovo since the military alliance launched a 78-day bombing campaign in what was Yugoslavia in 1999. In 2008, Kosovo formally declared independence from Serbia with support from the US and its allies. There are currently about 3,700 NATO troops deployed under the KFOR mission, including over 600 US troops.