Serbia-Kosovo talks end without breakthrough

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said ‘difficulties remain’ for the process.

Federica Mogherini (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)
Federica Mogherini (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)

Serbia’s president has refused to meet his Kosovo counterpart at European Union-backed talks, dashing hopes of an imminent improvement in long-strained relations between the two countries.

Hopes of a breakthrough had been relatively high after a territory swap had been suggested as part of a package to normalise relations between Serbia and its former province.

The two sides must patch up their differences to stand a chance of becoming members of the EU.

However, after separate meetings on an array of issues with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said “difficulties remain”.

There are not minimum conditions to talk to the representatives of Pristina today
Serbian negotiator Marko Djuric

Without elaborating, she said she trusts that both leaders will “continue the process and reach in the coming months a legally binding agreement on comprehensive normalisation of relations, in line with international law”.

Behind the scenes in Brussels, there were few signs of a change in the rhetoric.

Marko Djuric, a leading Serbian negotiator, said Mr Vucic refused to meet Mr Thaci because of recent “threats and deceits” from Kosovo.

“There are not minimum conditions to talk to the representatives of Pristina today,” he said.

The dispute between Serbia and Kosovo dates back to 1998-99, when former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic ordered a bloody crackdown on Kosovo Albanian separatists.

More than 10,000 people died in the conflict before Nato forced Serbia to pull out of the territory.

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Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and is recognised as a nation by more than 100 countries, but Serbia does not recognise it, and neither do five EU countries — Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.

Tensions remain high in northern Kosovo where many ethnic Serbs still live.

Serbia and Kosovo have been told to sort out their differences if they hope to join the EU. Officials from both sides have suggested a land swap could work, but the idea has been criticised locally and internationally.

The town of Presevo is at the centre of the idea (Zenel Zhinipotoku/AP)

The proposal could see a part of southern Serbia centred on the ethnic Albanian-dominated city of Presevo transferred to Kosovo, while the Serb-dominated northern part of Kosovo, around Mitrovica, would become part of Serbia.

Some fear any border changes might trigger similar demands elsewhere in the Balkans, especially in Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro, which like Serbia and Kosovo, were part of the former Yugoslavia.

Germany, Austria and Luxembourg have warned that any land swap could open up old wounds in the region. Other EU countries, such as Belgium and Romania, believe it is up to the two sides to sort things out.

Zoran Ostojic, an analyst from Belgrade, said Mr Vucic and Mr Thaci are “testing the ground, primarily with the international community” by floating the swap idea.

“Who knows where that could end?” he warned, echoing fears of a chain reaction throughout the Balkans.

Ms Mogherini is due to chair further high-level talks in Brussels between the sides later this month.

Press Association

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