Kosovo stops documents for Serbian referendum

Kosovo police announced on Saturday that they have stopped entering documents sent by Serbia to allow minority Serbs to participate in the referendum.

A statement said that a car and two trucks had been stopped at the Mirdar border crossing point with Serbia the day before. Trucks were confiscated while six passengers turned back their cars, while Serbia held a referendum on Sunday on amendments to strengthen the independence of the judiciary as part of reforms needed for the country to move closer to membership in the European Union.

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Belgrade wants the participation of the ethnic Serb minority in Kosovo.

But Kosovo authorities say that Serbs in their territory may vote only by mail or at a liaison office, ignoring the previous practice of setting up polling stations in Serb-controlled areas.

A statement issued by Kosovo’s highest authorities on Friday said Kosovo’s laws “do not recognize the right of one country to hold a referendum in the sovereign territory of another,” adding that “the practices applied so far since 2012 are unconstitutional.”

The decision is likely to lead to more tension in relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move Belgrade refused to acknowledge.

Serbia insisted that Kosovo remain part of the country, despite declaring independence following the 1998-1999 conflict that killed about 13,000 people and ended after NATO bombed Serbia to halt its crackdown on Albanian separatists.

Serbia has maintained a strong influence in the Serb-dominated areas of Kosovo where tens of thousands of Serbs live, although it does not officially have any authority in the territory.

The conflict between Serbia and Kosovo continues to be a cause of tensions in the Balkans. Negotiations mediated by the European Union aimed at normalizing relations have yielded little progress, although both Kosovo and Serbia have been told to resolve their differences in order to advance their bid to join the European Union.

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