Land swap talks between Kosovo and Serbia fall through

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By Euronews  with Reuters, AP
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci speaks during interview in Pristina, Kosovo
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci speaks during interview in Pristina, Kosovo   -   Copyright  Reuters

Talks of partitioning Kosovo from Serbia was called off today in Brussels, dashing hopes of a potential land swap that would resolve a decade-long stalemate between the two foes.

Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci was due to discuss the swap plan with his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic for the first time in talks brokered by the EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini.

But moments before the meeting, both men refused to speak to each other, leaving Mogherini to speak with them separately several times.

Despite the round of talks, Mogherini said “difficulties remain.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini tries to keep talks alive between Kosovo and Serbian leadersReuters

In a statement on Friday, Mogherini said:

“I trust the full commitment of both Presidents to continue the process and reach in the coming months a legally binding agreement on comprehensive normalisation of relations, in line with international law,” adding she will try for another meeting between the two leaders later this month.

Thaci tried to avoid journalists' questions on why Vucic left without meeting with him, saying they had "dialogued through Mogherini, which has been a procedure and practice even before," reported private television station rtv21.

"It is becoming more difficult because disagreements are deepening," he said, without clarifying what the disagreements were.

Pitctured: Serbian president Aleksander VucicReuters

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and its independence is recognized by more than 100 countries, but not by Serbia and its ally, Russia. In 2013, the two Balkan neighbours agreed to resolve any remaining issues. Right now, it’s believed that Serbians living in Northern Kosovo are stuck in an unhappy marriage and a land swap would rectify this since 90% of people living in Kosovo are Albanians. Now, without normalised bilateral relations, this means both Kosovo and Serbia are further away from achieving full EU membership.

Before the meeting

Prior to the meeting, Thaci said only that a final agreement should happen, involving mutual recognition of both countries, but not partition or movement of citizens, according to Balkan Insight.

“We are definitely in the last phase of the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo in order to achieve the definite final agreement for peace between the two. This peaceful process of negotiation, I believe, will bring positive progress for both countries and stability for the region,” Thaci said, adding the multi-ethnic spirit of Kosovo should be preserved, saying threats of war and of refugees were unacceptable.

Land swap skepticism

During an EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Austria last month, some EU leaders expressed how the frontier changes would exacerbate ethnic tensions.

"Discussion about a land swap between Kosovo and Serbia, we don't find that conducive to reaching the goal. We think it will reopen too many old wounds in the population and that is why we are very sceptical," said Heiko Maas, German Foreign Minister.

Among the EU countries, there are five that don’t recognize Kosovo: Cyrus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.