Serbia and Kosovo sign first post-independence agreement
After five months of talks under EU mediation, Serbia and Kosovo on Saturday (2 July) signed a breakthrough deal allowing people to cross the border with Kosovo papers, and to get real estate documents and school diplomas recognised on both sides.
The agreement is the first one between the two sides since since Kosovo declared independence three years ago. Belgrade was quick to point out that it does not imply that it recognises its former province as being a state of its own, however.
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Under the agreement, Kosovo ID cards and licence plates will now be recognised by Serbian border guards, but not their recently issued passports, deemed a symbolic step too far. This will allow Kosovo citizens to travel to the EU directly through Serbia, after years of having to go the longer and more cumbersome route through Montenegro and Croatia.
School and university diplomas are also to be recognised on both sides, while the EU's justice and police mission Eulex will certify copies from the civil registry kept in Belgrade "with a view to establishing a comprehensive civil registry in Kosovo," the agreement reads. By doing this, Eulex is expected to ease procedures on issues such as divorce while curbing corruption and identity theft.
The agreement is expected to further boost Serbia's efforts to join the EU, after the arrest of suspected war criminal Ratko Mladic last month. The European Commission is in September likely to recommend that the country be given official EU candidate status.
For the Kosovo negotiations chief, Edita Tahiri, the deal represents a first step towards recognition of her country's independence.
"It is becoming clearer that Serbia's EU integration is conditioned by recognition of Kosovo and Serbia's first step toward recognition of Kosovo's independence was made today," she said after the meeting.
But her Serbian counterpart Borko Stefanovic stressed that this agreement does not imply any recognition of independence.
"A passport is the highest symbol of citizenship, while the identity card is not", he explained.
Back in Belgrade, this nuance may be hard to sell. The leader of the nationalistic Democratic Party of Serbia, Vojislav Kostunica, said the government betrayed the trust of all countries that oppose Kosovo independence.
"By recognizing various acts and documents of the quasi state of Kosovo, the current government has supported the snatchers of our territory," he was quoted as saying by Radio B92.