EU warns Serbia and Kosovo over flare up in tensions

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić [L] and EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini on 18 December 2018 in Brussels. [@PubAffairsEU Twitter]

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini on Tuesday (18 December) issued a stern warning to Serbia and Kosovo to put aside recent bickering amid a major flare-up in tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.

Talks led by Brussels to normalise ties between Serbia and Kosovo, which broke away from Belgrade in a 1998-99 war, have faltered and relations have been plunged into crisis in recent weeks, most recently by Pristina’s decision to build an army.

Kosovo asserts independence with vote to build an army

Kosovo lawmakers vote Friday (14 December) on whether to give the small Balkan country its own army, a US-backed symbolic show of independence that has inflamed tensions with former wartime foe Serbia.

At a tense press conference with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, Mogherini said the two sides’ hopes of ever joining the EU depended on resolving their differences through talks and warned of the “very dangerous” alternative to serious dialogue.

Serbia refuses to recognise Kosovo’s independence and their already fraught relationship took a serious blow last month when Pristina slapped a 100-percent tariff on Serbian goods in response to Belgrade’s attempts to undermine its standing on the world stage.

Kosovo hits Serbia, Bosnia with 100% customs fees after Interpol snub

Kosovo on Wednesday (21 November) raised customs tariffs on Serbian and Bosnian goods from 10 to 100% after Serbia blocked its former province from joining Interpol, the international police organisation.

Things went from bad to worse last week when the Pristina parliament voted to transform its small Kosovo Security Force (KSF), into an army with 5,000 troops, enraging Serbia and alarming many Western powers.

After talks in Brussels with EU officials, Brnabić warned the new army was “the single biggest threat to regional peace and stability” and defended Serbia’s right to lobby countries not to recognise Kosovo.

“Does it make sense that Pristina can lobby countries to recognise independence of Kosovo but Belgrade cannot lobby some of the countries to withdraw their recognition?” she demanded.

This drew an exasperated response from Mogherini, whose talks on Monday with Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj made so little progress that a planned press conference was cancelled at the last minute.

“This shows exactly and perfectly well the choice that is in front of the two sides — I do something, you do something, I respond to this, you respond to that. Fine, good luck. This has never led any region, forget the Balkans, towards something good,” Mogherini said.

Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaçi defended the decision to create an army as he headed to a UN Security Council meeting about the move, insisting it was “irreversible” and that he has the backing of the United States.

Belgrade and Washington have differing views on Kosovo army

The visit of US Assistant Secretary of State to Belgrade made it clear yet again that the issue of Kosovo remains a thorn in Serbia’s side and the biggest obstacle to its hopes of joining the European Union in 2025.

Mogherini pleaded with Belgrade and Pristina to persevere with talks, saying their hopes of joining the EU depended on progress — as did the stability of the region.

“The alternative to having a serious meaningful dialogue with real engagement from both sides — I think the alternative to dialogue is very dangerous,” she said.

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