Agreement between Serbia and Kosovo: Oral promises

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After protracted negotiations, agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on travel documents and licence plates should make life easier for both Serbs and Kosovars, argues Serbian news agency Beta.

Beta is a Serbian news agency and EURACTIV's partner in Belgrade.

"On 2 July, the delegations of Serbia and Kosovo, with the EU acting as an intermediary, reached their first agreement since the beginning of the talks on 8 March this year.

The agreement was reached at the point when it seemed that the talks were getting to the point Brussels and Washington were beginning to lose patience with the two negotiating parties. So far, five rounds of talks have been held, led by Serbian ministry of foreign affairs political director Borislav Stefanovic and Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Edita Tahiri.

The first agreement is concerned with the freedom of movement and birth registries, but what exactly has been agreed upon still remains between Stefanovic, Tahiri and the EU official in charge of the dialogue, Robert Cooper. The fact is that no agreement will actually be signed, owing to the fact that the Serbian side insisted that it would not sign any document with Kosovo since it does not recognise it as an independent state.

This is why Cooper was obliged to formulate the verbal agreements which would be accepted by both parties and who will commit themselves to honouring what had been agreed. What also remains a mystery is whether the agreements will actually be implemented.

It is expected that certain decisions will be adopted by the governments in Belgrade and Pristina, but the actual implementation of the obligations contained therein will be overseen by the working group comprising EU officials, and officials from Serbia and Kosovo. It is probable that the heads of the negotiating parties will submit their reports to their respective parliaments but both sides will try to avoid any decisions being taken by the parliaments, seeing as both are facing strong opposition.

It is also unclear whether either side will be penalised if what had been agreed is not implemented, but supposedly both sides will remain open to working on the agreements because the European perspective for both Belgrade and Pristina will depend on them. Since both sides have stated that the future in Europe is at the very focus of their respective political agendas, this will certainly become a very useful control lever.

Agreements

The statements made by the heads of the negotiating teams seem to indicate that Serbia has agreed to grant the citizens of Kosovo entry into Serbia proper using documents issued in Pristina which, until now, has not been the case. Pristina insisted that the citizens of Kosovo should use passports to enter Serbia, but Belgrade found this unacceptable as it thought this could be seen as recognition of Kosovo's independence.

This is why it has been agreed that the citizens of Kosovo use their ID cards, but at the administrative border they would be issued special passes by the Serbian police, which would allow them to move freely.

Upon exiting Serbia to enter another country, they would be allowed to use Kosovo passports (provided this country recognises them), but as proof of their entry into Serbia they will have to show certificates issued at the administrative border by the Serbian Ministry of the Interior.

The same rule will apply to driving licences. The citizens of Kosovo will be given special certificates issued by the Serbian Ministry of the Interior but these documents will not serve as proof of identity but only as proof that they are certified drivers. An agreement regarding insurance has also been discussed, which would regulate compensation in case of accidents involving citizens of Kosovo on Serbia's roads. The citizens of Kosovo will not be permitted to open bank accounts in Serbia using their personal documents or to enter any contracts of purchase or sale.

Another complicated agreement has been reached regarding vehicle registration plates. Both sides agreed that the Albanians and Serbs should be encouraged to acquire plates bearing the letters RKS or KS. The RKS plates will stand for the Republic of Kosovo with the Kosovo coat of arms and this will not be considered legal in Serbia. The owners of these plates will be issued temporary plates at the administrative border, which they will have to use during their stay in Serbia.

The plates bearing the letters KS are also known as UNMIK plates, and Belgrade considers them to be status neutral as they will bear no insignia of the state of Kosovo. It is expected that these plates will mainly be used by Kosovo Serbs who do not recognise the independence of Kosovo. However, this brings with it the danger of ghettoisation because in that case the plates will become a clear sign as to who owns the vehicle.

The statements made after the talks were not specific as to which type of plates will be used in northern Kosovo, where Serbs live and where the majority of plates in use have been issued by the Serbian Ministry of the Interior. However, these plates cannot be used for driving in the rest of Kosovo. Stefanovic said that Serbia does not intend to relinquish any part of its jurisdiction owing to the agreements and that he presumed the Ministry of the Interior would continue to issue licence plates to the inhabitants of northern Kosovo.

What is even more unclear is the agreement concerning the birth registries. The only thing that is certain is that the two sides are to exchange copies with the help of EULEX and use them to ascertain the current situation in various municipalities in Kosovo. The birth registries, i.e. people registries, were removed by the Serbian authorities during the withdrawal from Kosovo after the war in 1999 and since then they have been kept in municipalities around Serbia.

Future Negotiations

The next round of negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina has been scheduled for the end of July when both sides shall suffer additional pressure from Brussels to reach further agreements before the summer break. The topics which are expected to be discussed will be the recognition of university degrees issued in Kosovo, land registry, electricity supply and telecommunications.

The most likely to be reached will be the agreement regarding university degrees and it may happen that the remaining topics will be agreed upon by the end of July. In September, it is possible that the participation of Kosovo in various initiatives around the region may be tackled.

The initial reaction have made it clear that the agreements will further deepen the divisions between the Serbs living in the north of Kosovo and those living south of the River Ibar, who are entirely surrounded by Albanians. While the Serbs in the north will practically continue to live under Serbian jurisdiction, two-thirds of the Serb population, living south of the Ibar, will be further encouraged to apply for Kosovo-issued documents, registration plates and to take part in the life of a country they do not recognise.

However, the divisions could run even deeper owing to the fact that even some of MPs, members of the ruling coalition in the Serbian parliament, expressed their displeasure with the agreements that have been reached. This is why Stojanka Petkovic, an MP from the United Regions of Serbia, said that the Serbs living in northern Kosovo would not accept the outcome of the last round of talks as they only serve to reinforce Kosovo institutions.

'Taking the licence plates away from the Serbs in Kosovo and a partial recognition of documents issued in Kosovo is not good for the Serbian side and I rather think it is a good thing for the Albanian side,' said Stojanka Petkovic, an MP in the ruling coalition. However, the representatives of Serbs living in the enclaves south of the Ibar believe that the agreements would bring some relief but would also provide a certain level of credibility to Serbia's apparent efforts to protect them and the Serbian cultural heritage.

However, no great disagreements are expected to occur within the ruling coalition at this particular juncture as these statements have mostly been made by officials from Kosovo whose attitudes may not necessarily win the support of their party headquarters. Snezana Grubjesic, a high official from the same political party, was quick to respond to the statement made by Stojanka Petkovic saying that the agreements would make people's lives easier."

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