Serbia and Kosovo strike first deals after months of talks | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 03.07.2011

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Serbia and Kosovo strike first deals after months of talks

Over a decade after the NATO-led air campaign, Belgrade and Pristina are taking the first steps toward the normalization of relations. Kosovo's political status, however, remains disputed.

Main holding Kosovo's flag

Serbia and Kosovo agreed to cooperate on practical issues

Serbia and Kosovo took a major step toward overcoming their difficult history and realizing their European aspirations by agreeing to cooperate on a host of day-to-day issues aimed at alleviating the lives of average citizens.

The two sides agreed to enable the free movement of people across their common border and to mutually recognize education diplomas and identification cards.

"They [the agreements] bring both parties close to the European Union, they improve cooperation and they improve the lives of ordinary people," said EU diplomat Robert Cooper, who acted as a mediator during the months-long talks.

The agreements are the first concrete steps toward reconciliation since Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 1999 under the cover of a NATO bombing campaign aimed at protecting ethnic Albanians from the oppressive regime of then President Slobodan Milosevic.

Kosovo subsequently declared itself an independent state in 2008. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo's independence.

Serbs consider Kosovo the birthplace of their Orthodox Christian culture, although the region is 90-percent ethnic Albanian today. Albanians are predominantly Muslim.

"They [the agreements] do not prejudice the position of either side with respect to the status of Kosovo," Cooper said. "Serbia is not recognizing Kosovo, Kosovo is not giving up its status."

Road to normalization

Man holding a Kosovo flag

Kosovo's status remains disputed

The agreements are aimed at normalizing the relations between the people in Serbia and Kosovo. Free movement across the border and the recognition of diplomas will allow Kosovars to more easily seek work in Serbia.

An agreement to share Kosovo's civil registries, which were taken to Serbia after the war, will help fight rampant organized crime and may ultimately lead to visa liberalization.

Serbia hopes to become a candidate to join the EU, an ambition which has gained momentum after the arrest and extradition to The Hague of alleged Bosnian-Serb war criminal Ratko Mladic. Kosovo hopes to acquire visa-free travel with the EU.

Around 75 countries recognize Kosovo as an independent state, including the United States and 22 of the 27 EU members.

Russia and China, veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council, do not recognize Kosovo.

Author: Spencer Kimball (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Toma Tasovac

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