Europe

Serbia, Kosovo resume very difficult talks on normalising ties

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The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo on Friday held their first talks in 18 months on resolving one of Europe's most intractable territorial disputes, agreeing to a face-to-face meeting next week on the “very difficult” process.

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Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence after the province broke away in the bloody 1998-99 war that was ended only by a NATO bombing campaign against Serb troops.

Kosovos Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic held a video summit that was also joined by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

These discussions will be followed by more online talks on Sunday between Hoti and Vucic as well as EU officials, and then their meeting in Brussels on Thursday, Macron and Merkel said in a joint statement after the talks.

They encouraged Hoti and Vucic to “achieve substantial progress in the negotiations in the coming months,” the statement said.

“There are very difficult perspectives for the outcome of this dialogue, but there is a commitment by everyone to proceed step by step,” added a French presidential official, who asked not to be named.

Both Kosovo and Serbia have been facing mounting pressure from the West to resolve the impasse, which is seen as crucial to either side joining the EU.

“The normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia is essential for the security and stability of the region and of great importance if the two countries are to join the EU,” the statement by the French and German leaders said.

A senior EU official in Brussels who followed the talks echoed the sentiment that significant challenges remained, saying “This is the beginning of the story.”

Hoti told the online summit that the normalisation of relations “can be achieved only if Kosovo and Serbia respect each other's statehood,” his office said.

Leadership test

More than 13,000 people died in the war, mostly Kosovo Albanians, who form a majority in the former province.

Vucic, who is facing a major crisis at home after protests over a new coronavirus lockdown in Serbia, had warned ahead of the talks that he did not expect a smooth ride and that “no one is going to cuddle us or give us a present.”

The new push comes after Kosovos President Hashim Thaci was charged last month with war crimes by prosecutors in The Hague.

Thaci's indictment led to the postponement of a White House summit between Serbia and Kosovo due to be held at the end of June.

European officials had bristled at the US initiative to deal with Thaci on its own — a strategy now torpedoed by the indictment — and the EU now appears newly determined to resolve the issue.

The French official acknowledged that this issue was a “tRead More – Source