PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) – The border between Kosovo and Serbia was blocked on Tuesday by Kosovo Serbs protesting a decision by Kosovo authorities to start removing Serbian license plates from cars entering the country.
Trucks blocked the road to the Jarinje and Brnjak border post where small groups of Serbs spent the night in tents. An Associated Press photographer was not allowed to take the road. Other people crossed the border on foot.
Tensions rose on Monday when Kosovo special police with armored vehicles were sent to the border to impose a rule on temporary replacement of Serbian license plates on cars while driving in Kosovo.
Kosovo authorities have said that an agreement reached in 2016 during talks brokered by the European Union has expired and that only the appropriate symbols of Kosovo are now valid.
For years, Serbian police have been removing license plates from cars registered in Kosovo entering Serbia.
Hundreds of Kosovo Serbs drove to the border in their cars and trucks, blocking the roads leading to the crossing points. Kosovo police fired tear gas at the protesters, but they stayed behind and blocked the road.
Serbia does not recognize its former province of Kosovo as a separate state and regards the mutual border only as an âadministrativeâ and temporary border.
Thousands of people have been killed and over a million have been left homeless after a bloody 1998-1999 crackdown by Serbian troops against Kosovo Albanian separatists. The war did not end until after NATO intervened. Kosovo then declared its independence in 2008. It has been recognized by the United States and other Western countries, but not by Serbia and its allies Russia and China.
Thousands of NATO-led peacekeepers, including US troops, remain deployed in Kosovo, trying to avoid lingering ethnic tensions between the majority of Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs.
The EU and the US urged Kosovo and Serbia to show restraint “immediately and without delay” and to refrain from unilateral action.
But tension was high on Monday with populist Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic calling the Kosovo police decision a “brutal attack” and calling on NATO troops to protect the Serbs.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti said that as long as Serbia changes the license plates of Kosovar cars upon entry, the same will apply to Serbian cars entering Kosovo.
Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.
Zenel Zhinipotoku and Llazar Semini, The Associated Press