Serbia’s Vucic says long road ahead in talks with Kosovo

A Serbian Ortodox priest looks on from a balcony during a speech of visiting Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (not pictured) in the city centre of the northern Serb-dominated part of Mitrovica, Kosovo, 9 September 2018. [Djordje Savic/EPA/EFE]

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić pledged to continue talks with Kosovo officials to resolve differences but warned it would take a long time to reach a broad deal with Pristina that could allow both nations to move towards EU membership.

Expectations of an agreement that would involve a land swap, a proposal floated by both Belgrade and Pristina, dimmed after a face-to-face meeting between Vučić and his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Thaçi, was abruptly cancelled on Friday (7 September) .

Kosovo-Serbia talks break down as tensions mount again

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.

“I will do my best (to reach the agreement), but it is a long road full of thorns and problems ahead,” Vučić told reporters during a visit to the Gazivoda Lake dam, control of which is a hot topic between Belgrade and Pristina.

Part of the artificial Gazivoda Lake — key for supplying water to some Kosovo municipalities including parts of Pristina — is located in Serbia, where the source of its water lies.

Belgrade and Pristina are at odds who should have control over the lake, most of which is located in the northern Kosovo region mainly populated by Serbs, and a hydroelectric power plant next to it.

“I don’t think of Thaçi as a friend or companion or good interlocutor and I am sure he has the same opinion about me. But we do need to talk and to try and reach the agreement,” Vučić told reporters at the Gazivoda Lake in Kosovo.

The land swap deal would allow Serbia to keep control over northern parts of Kosovo that are mainly populated by Serbs. In return, Belgrade would hand southern municipalities mainly populated by ethnic Albanians to Kosovo.

Kosovo-Serbia talks to resume, overshadowed by land swap rumours

An EU-mediated dialogue aimed at resolving the Kosovo-Serbia issue will resume in Brussels on Friday (7 September) but the latest speculation that the conflict might eventually be resolved by swapping territory has turned everything upside down. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

Although some European Union and US officials have said they are open to the proposal, Germany and many analysts have rejected it on the grounds that it would revive old hostilities in the Balkans that erupted during ethnic wars in the 1990s.

The Brief – Changing borders in Europe???

It’s amazing that the European Commission envisages land swaps to settle Kosovo-Serbia relations. Neighbourhood Commissioner Johannes Hahn said it’s a bilateral solution which should not serve as a blueprint for other issues. But not everyone is convinced.  

“It is not going to be easy to reach an (final) agreement,” Vučić said. “I see no possibility to implement my ideas, you saw what Angela Merkel said, you saw what Kosovo Albanians have said.”

During a visit to Macedonia on Saturday, Merkel repeated her position that borders in the Balkans should not change. The deal also faces resistance from Kosovo’s ruling coalition and opposition.

Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 after NATO bombed to stop killing and expulsion of Albanians by Serb forces during a two-year counter insurgency war. Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and has been recognised by more than 100 states, but not by five EU members, Russia or Serbia.

Normalising bilateral ties is a key condition for both nations to advance towards their eventual goal of EU membership.

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