Kosovo-Serbia talks break down as tensions mount again

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic talks during the press conference in Belgrade, Serbia, 07 August 2018. Vucic held a press conference answering questions on Serbia Kosovo relations, recent tensions, status of negotiations and general region stability. [EPA-EFE/ANDREJ CUKIC]

The latest round of EU-sponsored Kosovo-Serbia talks effectively collapsed on Friday (7 September) as Serbia’s president refused to sit down with his Kosovo counterpart, citing a ban by Kosovar authorities on his planned visit to the former Serbian province as a reason to reassess all relations with Pristina.

The anti-climax came after speculation that the two leaders, Aleksandar Vučić and Hashim Thaçi, were edging towards a solution, possibly involving an exchange of territory.

Normalisation of relations with Kosovo is a key requirement for Serbia’s EU accession talks but Friday’s setback made clear it would not be easy to reach.

The EU’s diplomacy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the talks would resume later in September but acknowledged she had held only talks in “bilateral format’ on Friday and added that “difficulties remain”.

Vučić and Thaçi have recently floated the idea of a land swap to settle their disputes. The proposal, involving the predominantly Serb northern Kosovo and the Preševo Valley in southern Serbia, has been welcomed by some, including the Commission.

But it was criticised by many others for fear it might create further instability in the Balkans.

Vučić had planned to go to Kosovo on 8-9 September and address the local Serbs there but has said he may cancel the visit after the Kosovo authorities said he would not be allowed to visit Gazivode, a dam and a power plant at a lake that separates local Serb and Albanian settlements.

“It is not certain how we shall continue the talks,” said Marko Djurić, Belgrade’s chief negotiator for Kosovo. On his Twitter account, he posted a document from the Kosovo authorities approving only parts of Vučić’s visit.

Serbia’s state television service, RTS, reported that Vučić had ordered the army, police and intelligence services to halt all communication with their counterparts from Kosovo, and with any Albanian or international representative in Kosovo.

It said Vučić would decide whether to go ahead with the visit later on Friday.

Kosovo-Serbia status remains biggest challenge in Balkans – EU envoy

Normalising relations between Kosovo and Serbia is “the most complicated process in the Balkans at the moment”, according to the head of the EU’s office in Pristina. But both sides need steady encouragement from the international community to reach a final solution and progress towards EU membership.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, after a decade as an international protectorate. Belgrade, backed by Russia, refuses to recognise its sovereignty and five EU member states have also refused to recognise Kosovo.

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