Van Rompuy’s Balkan visit focuses on Kosovo


On his first tour of the Western Balkan, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy condemned the recent violence in Kosovo and called for restraint and dialogue. An extraordinary session of the UN Security Council will be held on the matter today (6 July).

Meeting with the leaders of Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia in successive encounters yesterday (5 July), Van Rompuy voiced concern over the latest developments in Kosovo, where two violent incidents have taken place in recent days.

On Friday, an explosion during a protest by ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovska Mitrovica killed one man and injured several others.

Kosovo police said a hand grenade was thrown by an unknown attacker into a crowd of about 1,000 Serbs, who were protesting against the opening of a civil registry office run by Pristina in the Serb-dominated part of Mitrovica.

On Monday, Petar Mileti?, an Independent Liberal Party representative in the Kosovo Assembly, was shot at and wounded outside his home in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, according to reports by BETA, the news agency which is a partner of EURACTIV in the region.

Kosovo police service spokesperson Besim Hoti told BETA that four shots were fired at Miletic in the corridor of the residential building, in the course of which he was hit in the thigh. He added that an investigation is in progress.

Speaking in Brdo, Slovenia, Van Rompuy and Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor voiced concern about the latest developments in northern Kosovo.

Pahor said it was still to early to say whether these were isolated incidents or a systematic policy, adding that Slovenia would advocate dialogue, Croatia's HINA agency reported.

Praise for solving border dispute

During his visit, Van Rompuy told the press he was coming to the region with three messages. The first is that the future of the region lies with Euro-Atlantic organisations such as NATO and the EU. The second and third messages are that internal and regional efforts are necessary if the region's transition is to proceed smoothly, and that peace, stability and solution-seeking are essential to achieve that.

Van Rompuy said he supported Pahor's commitment to regional cooperation and welcomed the result of a recent Slovenian referendum, which put an end to a long-standing border dispute between EU member Slovenia and accession candidate Croatia (EURACTIV 07/06/10).

The arbitration agreement proves that bilateral issues can be solved in the European spirit, said Van Rompuy.

Outstanding problems in Croatia's talks

Pahor voiced confidence that other countries in the region with outstanding bilateral issues would follow the example of Slovenia and Croatia.

He told the press that he had informed Van Rompuy about outstanding issues in Croatia's accession negotiations with the EU, hoping that a solution could be found at his meeting with Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor at a summit in Dubrovnik on 10 July.

Pahor was referring to compensation for holders of foreign exchange deposits at the defunct Banka Ljubljanska. After the collapse of Yugoslavia, the bank refused to compensate holders of foreign exchange deposits at its branches in Zagreb, Sarajevo and Skopje. In response, Zagreb denied Slovenia's Ljubljanska bank access to the Croatian market for as long as savers from the former Yugoslavia, now Croatian citizens, had not been refunded.

Pahor recently voiced hope that the issues of Croatian citizens' savings in the bank and the operation of Nova Ljubljanska Banka (NLB) in Croatia will be settled before the end of Croatia's EU accession talks.

Serbia unhappy with pace of EU integration

Later in the day, Van Rompuy met with Serbian President Boris Tadi? in Belgrade. According to an official communiqué, the two leaders discussed the situation in "Kosovo and Metohia," as Belgrade officially calls its former province.

The press also reported that Tadi? will attend an extraordinary session of the UN Security Council in New York today, called at the initiative of Serbia.

According to the statement, Tadi? voiced his dissatisfaction with the slowdown in the European integration process, and insisted that speeding up Serbia's EU accession was crucial for the future of the Western Balkans.

Last month, Serbia took another step towards EU integration when EU foreign ministers agreed to start implementing an accord with Serbia known as the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA).

The agreement had been blocked for several years, mainly as a result of the Netherlands' insistence that Belgrade must cooperate fully with the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Later today, Van Rompuy will be in Pristina to meet the president of Kosovo, Fatmir Sejdiu. A visit to the headquarters of the EU's rule of law mission in Kosovo, EULEX, is also on the agenda.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, nine years after the end of the 1999 war between Belgrade's security forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas. In the following years, Kosovo became an international protectorate under a UN mandate, patrolled by NATO peacekeepers. 

Since its proclaimed independence, the two million-strong republic – 90% of which is composed of ethnic Albanians – has established many of the trappings of statehood, including a new constitution. 

Sixty-nine countries have recognised Kosovo, including the US and most EU member states (except Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Romania and Slovakia). Serbia, backed by Russia, is staunchly opposed to Kosovo's independence. 

The EU deployed a rule of law mission, dubbed 'EULEX Kosovo', in February 2008 with the intention of taking over post-crisis management in the territory, which lies on the European continent.

The aim of the operation is to assist and support the Kosovar authorities with the rule of law, specifically regarding the police, the judiciary and customs. EULEX also covers northern Kosovo, a territory which escapes the control of Pristina.

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