Serbs in northern Kosovo quit state jobs in licence plate protest

The long-running licence plate row is stoking ethnic tensions between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo.

Minority Serbs in northern Kosovo say they are quitting their posts in state institutions, including the government, police and courts, to protest against the use of new vehicle licence plates issued by Pristina.

Following a meeting of Serb political representatives in the north of Kosovo, Minister of Communities and Returns Goran Rakic said he was resigning from his post in the Pristina government.

He told reporters that fellow representatives of the 50,000-strong Serb minority in the north had also quit their jobs in municipal administrations, courts, police, and the parliament and government in Pristina.

The long-running licence plate row has stoked tensions between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo, which gained independence in 2008 and is home to a small ethnic Serb minority in the north that is backed by Belgrade.

Kosovo, which is predominantly ethnic Albanian, has sought to compel about 50,000 ethnic Serbs to accept Pristina’s authority in routine bureaucratic matters after a 10-year uprising against Serbia’s repressive rule.

Kosovo’s government has said it will start issuing fines this month to Serb drivers using old pre-independence plates, and will confiscate vehicles that have not had their registration numbers changed by April 21, 2023.

Rakic said they would not consider returning unless Pristina abolishes the order. They also demanded the formation of a union of Serb municipalities giving Serb-majority districts greater autonomy, he said.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti urged the Serbs not to “boycott or abandon Kosovo’s institutions”.

“They serve all of us, every single one of you. Don’t fall prey to political manipulations and geopolitical games,” Kurti added in a Facebook post.

Kosovo’s main backers, the United States and the European Union, have urged Kurti to postpone implementing the car plates ruling for another 10 months but he has refused.

In September, when Kurti announced an October 31 deadline for motorists to switch over, he described the decision as “nothing more or less than an expression of the exercise of sovereignty”.

Blerim Vela, chief-of-staff to Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani, tweeted that Belgrade “is coercing and inciting Kosovo Serbs to abandon their jobs in Kosovo institutions”.

In Serbia, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said her government “stands by our brave and proud people in Kosovo”.

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