Pristina will punish residents who refuse to quit using Serbian license plates, provoking Belgrade's displeasure. High Representative Borrel: "Both leaders are to blame for the impasse".

Conflict may erupt between Kosovo and Serbia as EU mediation fails
[Pristina, Kosovo]

The European Union has warned of "escalation and violence" after Kosovo and Serbia failed to reach an agreement in emergency negotiations to address their long-running conflict over automobile number plates used by Kosovo's Serbian minority. "After several hours of conversations, the two parties have not reached a solution today," said Josep Borrell, the director of EU diplomacy, after yet another mediation attempt. "I believe both leaders hold some responsibility for today's failure and any escalation and bloodshed that may occur on the ground in the coming days."

Kosovo sought this year to urge the Serb minority to alter outdated automobile registration plates from before 1999, when the nation was still a part of Serbia. This decision has been met with intense and occasionally violent opposition from Serbs in the country's north, but after a brief respite, Pristina has announced that it would begin imposing penalties against offenders tomorrow. According to Borrell, the EU proposed a plan that may have averted further escalation of hostilities, which Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic approved but Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti did not.

The high representative stated that she will notify EU member states of the two nations' "failure to comply with international legal requirements," and that given their intention to joining the bloc, they should act appropriately. "The Serbian side was fully constructive and accepted the texts that had been amended ten times, but the Albanian side refused to accept anything, not even for a second, and always added something that was plainly not conceivable," Vucict told reporters following the meeting.

Kurti, for his part, called Borrell's suggestion "unacceptable," saying that Kosovo should not impose fines for failing to change Serbian "illegal license plates," instead relying on verbal warnings, and that Belgrade should no longer issue Serbian plates to Kosovars. "This was unacceptable to us unless it was accompanied by what we were invited for, namely a definitive agreement for the full normalization of relations between the two countries, as requested by the EU," said the Kosovar premier, adding that "we cannot become state leaders who only deal with car registration plates and do not talk about how to normalize their relations."

For over two years, the license plate dispute has fuelled tensions between Serbia and its former province, which proclaimed independence in 2008 and is home to a Serbian minority in the north supported by Belgrade. Except for Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain, most Western nations and EU member countries acknowledged independence. Around 50,000 ethnic Serbs live there and refuse to acknowledge Pristina's authority, believing they are still part of Serbia. Hundreds of Serbian minority police officers, judges, prosecutors, and other state professionals resigned earlier this month.

Borrell urged Kosovo to immediately halt additional activities linked to car re-registration in northern Kosovo, and Serbia to halt issuing new license plates, leaving "space and time."
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