Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaçi said Tuesday (24 January) that he hoped for long-awaited recognition from former foe Serbia as he left for a meeting in Brussels with Belgrade’s top leaders.
The European Union-brokered meeting comes as ties between the two Balkan countries have reached their lowest level since they opened talks to improve relations back in 2011.
Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian insurgents fought Serbian forces in 1998-1999 and the former province unilaterally declared independence in 2008, but Serbia denies Kosovo’s sovereignty.
Tensions have heightened in recent weeks but Thaçi voiced optimism before leaving for Brussels.
“This is the opening of the final chapter of dialogue which will lead to mutual recognition between Kosovo and Serbia,” he told reporters.
Earlier this month, Belgrade sent a train towards Kosovo painted in the colours of the Serbian flag, covered in the statement “Kosovo is Serbia” in multiple languages and decorated inside with Serbian Orthodox imagery.
Kosovo said it was a “provocation”. The train was stopped from crossing the border over fears it would be attacked, according to Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić
Members of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority were also outraged by the arrest in France in early January of former prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, under an international warrant issued by Serbia.
Belgrade wants to try him for alleged war crimes committed against civilians during the 1990s conflict.
Relations have further deteriorated in the town of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, where Serb authorities have started erecting a concrete wall on the banks of the Ibar river.
The wall’s construction, by a bridge that divides the town’s Serb-dominated north and largely ethnic Albanian south, has angered Pristina, which says it is cementing the town’s divisions and must be knocked down.
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Isa Mustafa said the dialogue with Belgrade “has no alternative”.
Vučić and Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić are due to attend the talks.
Stanislava Pak, an advisor to Nikolić, told state-run RTS television they were “expecting the intensification of dialogue and hope for the establishment of a ‘red phone’ with Pristina so that concrete problems can be avoided in future”.
Vučić said Monday that although he did not “expect much” from the Brussels meeting he still expected a “calming of the situation and clear messages”.