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Serbia and Kosovo leaders meet for EU-backed talks to normalise ties

FILE - Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, left, and Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti meet with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, Brussels, on Feb. 27, 2023.
FILE - Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, left, and Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti meet with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, Brussels, on Feb. 27, 2023. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Euronews with AP
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After years of discussions, leaders of Kosovo and Serbia convene to discuss a way forward on critical issues as tensions remain high.


The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo are meeting in Brussels on Tuesday to continue talks on the implementation of a European Union-backed 11-point plan to normalise their relationship – but tensions continue to simmer.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will convene the high-level meeting between Serbian President Aleksandar Vučićand Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti. They are expected to address two particularly delicate issues by endorsing a declaration on missing persons and discussing a first draft statute on the creation of an association of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo.

Miroslav Lajcak, Borrell's envoy for the Belgrade-Pristina negotiations, called Tuesday's meeting "a crucial step forward" and said it will be "important to avoid any actions that could worsen the atmosphere."

The meeting follows a similar encounter in February when both countries' leaders gave tacit approval to the EU-sponsored plan to end months of political crises. Another March summit, held in North Macedonia, saw Belgrade and Pristina tentatively agree on how to implement the plan.

However, the two countries have yet to fully apply many of the various agreements reached during in the 12-year-long EU-facilitated negotiations.

As things stand, Belgrade insists that Pristina must implement a 2013 agreement to establish an association of municipalities in the north of Kosovo which share a Serb-majority population, creating a new entity to coordinate local work on education, health care, land planning and economic development. Kosovo’s Constitutional Court later declared the plan unconstitutional, ruling it wasn’t inclusive of other ethnicities and could entail the use of executive powers.

Serbia says no progress is possible in the talks before the association proposal is tackled. Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said Kosovo will try to avoid any movement on the topic.

"We heard the same 10 years ago," said Dacic. "Everyone was thrilled that it was a historic act. Ten years passed and the association of Serb municipalities did not happen."

Local elections were held last month in Serb-dominated communes in northern Kosovo after Serb representatives had left their posts last year. The vote was overwhelmingly boycotted by ethnic Serbs.

Vučić praised the vote boycott and sharply criticised Western officials, calling them liars and frauds. He said the Serb minority in the former Serbian province will no longer tolerate foreign "occupation".

The talks will also tackle the issue of the more than 1,600 people still officially missing since the 1998-99 war. Most of them are ethnic Albanians, while a few are Serbs; Kosovo accuses Serbia of hiding their locations.

The EU rule of law mission in Kosovo says it is difficult to find the bodies as many were buried in small, unmarked graves, or even in cemeteries, by perpetrators seeking to hide evidence.

Kosovo is a former Serbian province. The 1998-1999 war in Kosovo erupted when separatist ethnic Albanians rebelled against Serbian rule, and Belgrade responded with a brutal crackdown. About 13,000 people died, most of them ethnic Albanians. In 1999 a NATO military intervention forced Serbia to pull out of the territory; Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Serbia does not officially recognise it.

Brussels and the United States often intervene to defuse tensions between Belgrade and Pristina, more so in the past year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

"The international community will pressure both Prime Minister Kurti and President Vučić to continue with a constructive approach, because that is the only way forward," said Kosovar analyst Artan Muhaxheri.

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