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Serbia, Kosovo leaders in EU talks to normalize ties

Published May 2, 2023last updated May 3, 2023

The leaders of the Balkan nations gave their tacit approval to a European peace plan in February and discussed steps to implement the plan in March. The question of Kosovo's statehood remains the most contentious issue.

Aleksandar Vucic, Albin Kurti and Josep Borrell at talks
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti in BrusselsImage: Frederic Sierakowski/AP Photo/picture alliance

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti met in Brussels on Tuesday to continue talks on the implementation of a European peace plan to normalize ties.

The leaders of the Balkan nations gave their tacit approval to the plan in February and tentatively agreed on steps to implement the plan at a summit in North Macedonia in March.

Under the 11-point plan unveiled in February, Belgrade stops short of recognizing Kosovo as an independent nation but agrees to recognize official documentation such as passports, diplomas and license plates.

One of Serbia's demands on Tuesday was to establish an Association of Serb Majority Municipalities that would have autonomy within Kosovo, but Kosovo instead proposed a framework governing minority rights for Serbs.

"Pristina does not want to fulfill the obligation. It's clear to me, we've reached a wall," Vucic said after the talks.

Both countries aim at joining the European Union, which requires them to maintain friendly relations and resolve conflicts.

Leaders vow to identify war missing

Kurti said the talks started on a "high positive note" when he and Vucic vowed to work together to locate burial sites from the Kosovo War in the late 1990s and identify the remains still there.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the two leaders "reaffirmed the importance of resolving the fate of the remaining missing persons, to bring closure to the suffering of their loved ones and to foster lasting reconciliation and peace."

They also "noted the urgent need for additional joint efforts to alleviate the situation of the affected families and the wider community."

The details will be agreed upon at the next meeting.

Ethnic tensions raise fears of conflict

Ethnic tensions last year between the former war foes over a license plate dispute put the focus back on the countries. Tensions eased after the EU and US mediated.

However, few agreements reached between Belgrade and Pristina in previous European Union-sponsored talks have applied.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after a NATO bombing campaign pushed out Serb forces from the former province.

Serbia, along with allies Russia and China, refuses to recognize Kosovo's independence. Belgrade insists on protecting ethnic Serbs, who make up 5% of Kosovo's population, which is predominantly Albanian.

'Serbia will never accept the independence of Kosovo'

zc, rm/sms (Reuters, AFP)