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20th Oct 2017

Interview

Thaci to Serbia: get your 'forces' out of north Kosovo

  • Thaci (l), Ashton and Dacic will have dinner in Brussels on Thursday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Kosovo leader Hashim Thaci has said Serbia should stop talking about autonomy for north Kosovo and pull out its security forces instead.

Speaking to EUobserver in Brussels on Thursday (17 January) ahead of a dinner with Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton, he said: "The 'platform' of Serbia doesn't have any value. It's purely for internal public opinion."

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Last week Serbia adopted a national "platform" on what to do about ethnic Serbs in north Kosovo - the biggest problem standing in the way of better ties with both Pristina and Brussels.

On one hand, it implicitly recognises that Serbia has no authority in Kosovo.

But on the other hand, it says ethnic Serb enclaves should have an autonomous police force and courts, while Serbian Orthodox churches in Kosovo should have Vatican-type status.

For their part, EU foreign ministers recently said Kosovo should have a "single" administration. But they also said Kosovo should respect the "particular needs" of ethnic Serbs.

Thaci added: "Tonight in the meeting ... there are two issues, the first one is that Prime Minister Dacic should take responsibility for removing all the parallel security structures in that part of the country, and these are forces of the ministry of interior affairs of Serbia which are keeping people there under their control."

He noted: "The second is my responsibility to guarantee the integration of the Serbs in the north."

He said he will create a "development fund" to improve education, healthcare and social services in north Kosovo.

He also said: "I will respect the formation of an association of [ethnic Serb] municipalities that would contribute to people who live there feeling good about themselves."

With north Kosovo currently a no-go area for Kosovar Albanian police and with the EU police mission, Eulex, also keeping operations in the volatile zone to a minimum, he said Eulex should do more to enforce Kosovo's territorial integrity.

"We cannot be satisfied with what Eulex has done in north Kosovo ... one of its priorities should be its presence in the north," he noted.

In 2011, Thaci's special police seized customs posts on the region's border with Serbia, prompting clashes in which a sniper shot dead a Kosovar Albanian policeman.

He ruled out using "violence" to bring the north under his control.

But he credited the 2011 operation with establishing joint EU and Kosovar supervision of the border posts. "I want to be very clear on something - without the intervention of the 25th of July 2011, we would not have had this switch," he said.

He also touched upon the most sensitive question on Serbia's bid to join the EU - whether it can ever get in without first recognising Kosovo independence.

"I am convinced Serbia will not enter the EU without first establishing European-type relations with Kosovo. It will not have a European future without first establishing good neighbourly relations with Kosovo and without reciprocal recognition," Thaci said.

Opinion

Kosovo-Serbia: will they or won't they?

Both sides have much to lose if Kosovo-Serbia talks on 2 April go badly, but they can only go well if Serb leaders face up to the reality that Kosovo is gone.

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