Serbia and Kosovo leaders to hold talks with EU backing for normalization of relations
PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo meet in Brussels on Tuesday to continue talks on the implementation of a European Union-backed 11-point plan to normalize ties between the two, but tensions continue to simmer.
Josep Borell, EU Foreign Policy Chief, will convene a high level meeting between Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic & Kosovo Premier Albin Kurti. They are expected to endorse a declaration on missing persons and also discuss the first draft statute on the creation of an association of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo — two delicate issues for the former war foes.
The summit follows a February meeting in which both leaders gave their tacit approval to an EU-sponsored plan that aims to end months of political crisis. In March, Belgrade and Pristina reached a tentative agreement on the implementation of the plan at a summit in North Macedonia.
Miroslav Lajcak, Borrell’s envoy for the Belgrade-Pristina negotiations, said Tuesday’s meeting is “a crucial step forward and it’s important to avoid any actions that could worsen the atmosphere.”
The EU-facilitated 12-year-long negotiations between the two nations have yielded few agreements. Brussels and the United States have often intervened to calm tensions between Belgrade Pristina. This has been especially true in the last year, since the Russian invasion into Ukraine.
Belgrade insists that Pristina implement an agreement from 2013 to create an association of municipalities in north Kosovo with a majority Serb population. It would coordinate the work of education, land planning, economic development, and health care at the local levels. Kosovo’s Constitutional Court later declared the plan unconstitutional, ruling it wasn’t inclusive of other ethnicities and could entail the use of executive powers.
Serbia claims that the talks cannot progress until the issue of association is addressed. Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Ivica Daci said that the country will avoid moving on this topic.
“We heard the same 10 years ago. All were thrilled by the historic nature of this act. Ten years passed and the association of Serb municipalities did not happen,” said Dacic.
Serb-dominated communities in the north of Kosovo held local elections last month after Serb delegates left their posts in 2017. The ethnic Serbs boycotted the vote in large numbers.
Vucic has praised the boycott of voting and slammed Western officials as liars, frauds, and swindlers. He said the Serb minority in the former Serbian province will no longer tolerate foreign “occupation.”
The discussions will also address the issue of more than 1,600 persons still missing from the war in 1998-1999. Kosovo accuses Serbia hiding their location.
EULEX, the EU’s rule of law mission, has said that the bodies are difficult to locate because they were often buried in cemeteries or small, unmarked burials. The perpetrators did this to complicate searches for the missing and to conceal evidence. Most of the missing are Albanians.
“The international community will pressure both Prime Minister Kurti and President Vucic to continue with a constructive approach, because that is the only way forward,” said Kosovar analyst Artan Muhaxheri.
Kosovo was a province of Serbia. The 1998-1999 war in Kosovo with a majority ethnic Albanian erupted when separatist ethnic Albanians rebelled against Serbia’s rule, and Belgrade responded with a brutal crackdown. Around 13,000 died, mainly ethnic Albanians. A 1999 NATO military intervention forced Serbia’s withdrawal from the territory. Kosovo declared its independence in 2008 and Serbia does not recognize it.
Semini reported on the story from Tirana, Albania. Jovana contributed to this report from Belgrade. ___ Follow Llazar Semini on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lsemini