Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat, said that Serbia and Kosovo had reached a compromise agreement on the distribution of exit and entry documents, an issue that has contributed to increasing tensions on along the border of the two countries.
“We have an agreement”, Borrell said in a Twitter post on August 27.
“As part of the EU-facilitated dialogue, Serbia has agreed to abolish entry/exit documents for Kosovo ID card holders and Kosovo has agreed not to introduce them for Kosovo ID card holders. a Serbian identity card,” he said.
“Kosovo Serbs, as well as all other citizens, will be able to travel freely between Kosovo and Serbia using their identity cards. The EU has just received guarantees from [Kosovo] PM [Albin] Kurti to this end.
“It is a European solution. We commend both leaders for this decision and their leadership,” Borrell added.
In a video message, Borrell thanked Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic for the agreement allowing free movement of the countries’ citizens.
News of the deal came after US special envoy for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar, who is visiting the region, and EU special envoy Miroslav Lajcak both met Vucic in Belgrade on August 25 after holding talks in Kosovo with Kurtis and ethnic groups. Serbian leaders as part of efforts to ease tensions.
Kurti said in a Facebook post that citizens of Kosovo “with identification documents issued by our country, will be able to cross the border with Serbia at all border crossing points without obstacles, charges or delays.
“The same will apply in the opposite direction in the event of entry into Kosovo with identity documents issued by the authorities of Serbia.”
Kosovar President Vjosa Osmani thanked the EU and Washington in a Facebook post and said “freedom of movement is the foundation of democratic societies and European values”.
“We will relentlessly pursue our commitment to mutual recognition,” she said.
The move appears to be a major concession by Vucic of Serbia, who previously refused to accept documents issued by Pristina, which could be seen as Belgrade’s recognition of Kosovar national documents.
Kosovo and Serbia fought a bloody war in the late 1990s, with Kosovo finally declaring independence from Serbia in 2008.
Belgrade – along with Russia, China and five EU member states – has not recognized the independence of its former province and accuses Pristina of suppressing the rights of the Serbian minority, which makes up 5% of the 1.8 million inhabitants of Kosovo, or 90% Albanians.
In recent years, the EU has brokered negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia to normalize relations, seeking to reinvigorate their efforts to join the European Union.
The tension between Kosovo and Serbia resurfaced at the end of last month when Pristina declared that Serbian identity documents and vehicle license plates would no longer be valid on Kosovo territory.
The Serbs, who mostly live in northern Kosovo, responded with fury, setting up roadblocks and firing in the air and at Kosovar policemen. No one was hurt.
Kurti postponed the implementation of the measure by a month, to September 1, after apparent pressure from the West.
Borrell, in his video message, said the license plate issue has yet to be resolved and he urged the leaders of both countries to find a solution.
Vucic said earlier today that he hoped an agreement on entry documents could be reached and that the EU would provide guarantees in this regard. He said he had little hope for a license plate deal.
Ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo have been using registration plates issued by Serbian institutions since the 1999 war with Kosovar city acronyms, such as KM (Kosovska Mitrovica), PR (Pristina), or UR (Urosevac).
Kosovo’s government considers the plates illegal but so far tolerates them in four municipalities in the Serb-majority north.