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U.S. urges Kosovo to lift trade tariffs against Serbia, Bosnia

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U.S. urges Kosovo to lift trade tariffs against Serbia, Bosnia
FILE PHOTO: People protest after Kosovo's decision to raise customs tariffs on Serbian and Bosnian goods, in the village of Rudare near Mitrovica, Kosovo, November 23, 2018. REUTERS/Laura Hasani   -   Copyright  Laura Hasani(Reuters)
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By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA (Reuters) – The United States urged Pristina on Friday to abolish 100-percent tariffs on goods imported from Serbia and Bosnia and continue talks on normalising ties with Belgrade.

Last November the government in Pristina raised customs tariffs on imports of locally-made products from Serbia and Bosnia, both of which have refused to recognise Kosovo since it declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

In response, Serbia walked away from European Union sponsored talks aimed at normalising relations between the two countries, which in turn would clear the way to EU membership for both and eventually allow Kosovo a chair at the United Nations.

“We caution against assuming that Kosovo or any other friend of the United States can take actions that run counter to our strategic interests without facing consequences to our bilateral relationship,” the United States embassy in Pristina said in a statement.

“We call on Kosovo and other regional stakeholders to demonstrate commitment to normalization, regional peace and stability, and movement on the path to European integration,” it said.

The statement is Washington’s strongest warning to Kosovo in the decade since it declared independence.

Serbia has called the tariffs “insane” and said it will not return to the talks unless trade is normalised.

“We reiterate our view that an immediate suspension of the tariff on imports from Serbia and Bosnia is one necessary measure to restore momentum to the Dialogue process,” the U.S. embassy said.

“Actions which undermine the dialogue, disruptions from the sidelines, and refusal to suspend tariffs all run counter to U.S. interests.”

Pristina media reported that Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj was denied a U.S. visa few days ago. Neither Haradinaj or the U.S. embassy have commented on the reports.

The United States led NATO bombing of Serbian forces in 1999 to halt the killing and expulsion of Albanians during a two-year counter-insurgency war.

Kosovo is recognised by around 110 nations, but not by Serbia, Russia and five EU member states.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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