Kosovo stops submitting Serbian referendum papers

Kosovo police have stopped on the country’s border papers to allow the Serb minority to participate in the referendum

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo police said on Saturday they had stopped importing documents sent by Serbia to allow the Serb minority to participate in a referendum.

A car and two trucks were stopped at the Merdale border crossing with Serbia a day earlier, a statement said. The truck has been confiscated, while the six people in the car have been turned away.

Serbia will hold a referendum on Sunday to increase the independence of its judiciary as part of the reforms needed to move the country closer to EU membership.

Belgrade wants its Serb minority in Kosovo to participate.

But Kosovo authorities said Serbs in their territory could only vote by mail or at liaison offices, ignoring past practice of setting up polling stations in Serb-dominated areas.

Kosovo’s top authorities said in a statement on Friday that Kosovo law “does not recognize the right of one country to hold a referendum on the sovereign territory of another”, adding that “the practice implemented since 2012 is unconstitutional.”

The decision could further heighten tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move Belgrade has refused to recognize.

Serbia maintains that Kosovo remains part of the country, despite its declaration of independence after the 1998-99 conflict that killed some 13,000 people and ended after NATO bombing Serbia halted its crackdown on separatist ethnic Albanians.

Serbia maintains a strong influence in the Serb-dominated region of Kosovo, where tens of thousands of Serbs live, although it has no formal power in the territory.

The dispute between Serbia and Kosovo remains a source of tension in the Balkans. EU-mediated talks aimed at normalizing relations have made little progress, although both Kosovo and Serbia have been told to resolve their differences to advance efforts to join the bloc.