Kosovo threatens to ban products from Serbia

MERDARE, Kosovo (Reuters) – Kosovo threatened on Tuesday to ban products coming from Serbia if Belgrade does not reverse its policy of blocking goods that carry a customs stamp from its former province.

Since early December, Serbia has refused to allow in products with labels reading “Customs of Kosovo” because Serbia does not recognize Kosovo institutions and still considers it part of its territory. Kosovo declared independence in February.

“If this continues we will introduce the same measures as Serbia,” Kosovo’s Trade Minister Lutfi Zharku told Reuters on Tuesday. “I am afraid that we may be in the situation to stop trade of all goods coming from Serbia, as an ultimate measure.”

Serbia lost control of Kosovo in 1999 after NATO bombing to halt the killing of ethnic Albanian civilians in a two-year counter insurgency war. After the bombing the U.N. administration was set to oversee the institutions.

The U.N. administration handed customs to Kosovo authorities in early December.

The biggest border crossing between Serbia and Kosovo is Merdare, known to Albanians as Gate 3. More than 80 trucks loaded with food and building materials enter Kosovo every day there from European Union countries and Serbia.

Kosovo government officials called on business people to find alternative sources of supplies because a ban for products coming from Serbia and Bosnia could be imminent.

But Serbia’s pro-Western government ruled out any change.

“We cannot accept the label with word Kosovo written on it,” said Oliver Ivanovic, State Secretary in Serbia’s Kosovo ministry.

Meanwhile, businesses in both Serbia and Kosovo face potential losses.

Bashkim Osmani, the owner of the Laberion soft drink company in the Kosovo capital Pristina, said he had planned to bring 23 trucks to Bosnia through Serbia this month.

“Since they have stopped my trucks now I may lose the market,” he said.

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