Serb policemen quit jobs in anti-Kosovo protest

Local Serbs decide to leave Kosovo institutions

NORTH MITROVICA, Kosovo (Reuters) - Kosovo Serb policemen who work in the Jarinje and Brnjak border posts in the north of the country resigned on Sunday in protest over Pristina's order to use Kosovo vehicle licence plates instead of those issued by Serbia.

The 300 resignations in the northern town of Mitrovica, reported by Serbian media, are part of a wider Serb movement to withdraw from state institutions including, courts, police, parliament and government.

In North Mitrovica, several thousand Serbs gathered at noon to protest against obligatory Kosovo licence plates. They waved Serbian flags and the Serbian national anthem was played.

The long-running licence plate row has stoked tensions between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo, which gained independence in 2008 and is home to a Serb minority in the north that is backed by Belgrade.

Kosovo police said in a statement it was aware Serb police officers had abandoned their posts and some have handed over police equipment.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti blamed Belgrade for seeking to destabilise Kosovo by supporting the Serbs in their boycott of state institutions.

"I once again I invite all Serb citizens of our country to not abandon institutions, not to resign, not to leave their jobs, because there would be less service for the people," he said.

Kosovo's government has said it will start issuing fines this month to Serb drivers using pre-independence plates, and will confiscate vehicles that have not had their registration numbers changed by April 21, 2023.

"The withdrawal of Kosovo Serbs from Kosovo institutions is not a solution to the current disputes. It has the potential to further escalate the tensions on the ground," EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell said in a statement on Saturday.

Some 50,000 Serbs who live in the Serb majority north consider Serbia their homeland and most of them use Serbian licence plates, while another 50,000 Serbs who live in other parts of Kosovo majority populated by Albanians have been using Kosovo licence plates.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci and Ivana Sekularac; editing by Barbara Lewis)