'No blackmail': Kosovo PM defies Western pressure over Serbia relationsComments
Under increasing pressure from his US and European allies to reach an agreement with Serbia, Kosovo's Prime Minister warned on Wednesday he would not give in to "blackmail".
Relations between Belgrade and its ex-province have lurched from crisis to crisis and Western powers are keen to end the cycle of tensions in this corner of southeastern Europe.
The deadline for Kosovo to seal a pact with its old enemy is fast approaching.
In an interview with AFP, Kosovan PM Albin Kurti claimed the US and EU had demanded that Belgrade and Pristina strike an agreement by March.
For months, European and American diplomats have shuttled between the two capitals for this purpose, he explained.
At the heart of the tensions between the pair is Belgrade's refusal to recognise Kosovo's independence.
The former Serbian province, home to an Albanian majority, broke away in 2008, a decade after a bloody war that only ended with a NATO bombing campaign led by the US.
The 15th anniversary of Kosovo's declaration of independence is on 17 February.
According to Kurti, the "centrepiece" of any pact must be the recognition of Kosovo by Serbia, which with the support of its Russian ally, blocks Pristina from taking a place at the UN.
"Our biggest obstacle is that Belgrade insists on its quest for a time machine," insisted the Kosovan leader.
But "it's not possible. Kosovo is an independent country and it would be better for Serbia to recognise it", he continued, claiming this could accelerate Belgrade's European integration.
Western powers, led by the US, want the small Balkan territory of 1.8 million people to create an association of municipalities where members of the Serbian minority live. This idea was first proposed under an agreement concluded under the eyes of Brussels a decade ago.
Kurti claims this would amount to creating a potentially subversive Serbian power in parallel to Kosovan institutions.
Kosovo's Serbian minority, around 120,000 people, refuses loyalty to the Pristina government. Encouraged by Belgrade, there were protests and scattered violent incidents at the end of last year, particularly in the north.
“We cannot be blackmailed,” Kurti said. "We cannot be afraid. We are a brave people who demand fair treatment, equality and mutual recognition."
"It's not fair to put pressure on the most pro-European, the most pro-American, the most democratic country in the Western Balkans," he said. "It is Belgrade that should be under pressure. Serbia is not a normal country. Serbia doesn't know where its borders are".
Serbian President Alexander Vucic also complained recently about being pressured by the West to normalise relations with Kosovo.
"They said: you have to accept this plan, or else you will have to face an interruption of the European accession process, a halt and withdrawal of investments and a series of economic and political measures which will do a lot of harm to the Republic of Serbia ," he told Serbian television.