Fourteen years after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, some 50,000 Serbs in the north still use license plates and documents issued by the Serbian authorities, refusing to recognize the Pristina government and its institutions.
Following tensions on Sunday and consultations with US and EU ambassadors, the government said it would delay until September 1 a decision giving local Serbs 60 days to switch to Kosovo license plates and requiring Serb citizens to issue additional documents at the border, including those living in Kosovo without local documents.
But as gravel-loaded trucks and heavy equipment continued to block roads leading to the Brnjak and Jarinje border crossings in northern Kosovo on Monday morning, the government began issuing documents at the largest border crossing, Merdare.
“This decision will be implemented until all barricades are removed and freedom of movement of people and goods is ensured,” Kosovo Interior Minister Celal Shwedla said.
Helicopters of the NATO-led KFOR mission flew over the northern part of Kosovo, predominantly populated by Serbs and directly linked to Serbia. The Brnjak and Yarinje border crossings remained closed.
Kosovo has been recognized as an independent state by over 100 countries, but not by Serbia or Russia.
A year ago, after local Serbs blocked the same roads in another lane because of license plates, the Kosovo government sent a special police force, while Belgrade sent fighter jets close to the border.
Tensions between the two countries remain high, and the fragile peace in Kosovo is maintained by a NATO mission with 3,770 troops on the ground. On Sunday, Italian peacekeepers were visible in and around the northern city of Mitrovica.
The two countries have pledged to launch a European Union-sponsored dialogue in 2013 to try to resolve outstanding issues, but little progress has been made.