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5th Dec 2022

Serbia shows sympathy for Kosovo amid EU talks

  • The bridge over the Iber river in Mitrovica is a symbol of division (Photo: jonworth-eu)

Serbia has voiced sympathy for the family of an ethnic Albanian policeman killed in north Kosovo. But the gesture of good will comes amid harsh words on the future of the disputed region.

"We strongly condemn this crime because a human life was lost and we could not support in any way something that is obviously a criminal act ... I know there are people in Kosovo who believe this [that Belgrade ordered the killing] but it is not the case. No one gave such an order," Borko Stefanovic, Serbia's chief negotiator in the ongoing EU-sponsored Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, told EUobserver by phone on Friday (9 September).

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"The grief and the pain of the family is undoubtable. We will do our best to find out who did it ... We feel sorry for the loss of human life. I think it was a tragedy," he added.

The words of condolence are the first of their kind since the 1998-1999 Kosovo War.

They come after Enver Zymberi, a Kosovar Albanian policeman sent on a mission to Serb-controlled north Kosovo, was shot dead by a sniper. Officials on all sides blame it on organised crime. But Zymbari's father last week publicly said he believes Serbia ordered the killing in order to perpetuate divisions.

The condolence also comes amid Serbia's bid to gain EU candidate status in autumn. Kosovo-recognising EU countries have told Belgrade the process will not go ahead unless there is a permanent solution for the "frozen conflict" in north Kosovo.

Stefanovic said the territory - which is almost 20 percent of Kosovo and contains water and mineral assets - should be split from the south.

"There are many ideas. They go from partition [of Kosovo], to a special status [for north Kosovo], to autonomy and other forms. All the ideas are legitimate and should be on the table ... There are thousands of Serbs who don't want to live under [Kosovar] Albanian rule and this reality should be respected, just like the reality there are 1.6 million [Kosovar] Albanians who don't want to live in Serbia," he said.

Using less friendly language, he predicted trouble if Pristina sends any more Kosovar Albanian policemen to the north.

"If [Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim] Thaci brings in his own customs officers, knowing the strong disagreement we have on that, especially in the north, we will probably have a new crisis," he said.

"There is no solution without Serbia and there is no future stability without our agreement. We can continue to be stubborn and they [Kosovo Albanians] can continue to insist that some countries recognise them. But it will not resolve their economic and social problems or help them become members of the EU."

He added that Kosovar Albanians' inclination to blame Serbia for Zymberi's murder is due to Pristina's anti-Serb "propaganda".

Symbol of hate

Enmity between the two sides is symbolised by a bridge in the north Kosovo town of Mitrovica.

Graffiti on the Kosovar Albanian side says "Fuck Serbia". On the Kosovar Serb side there are crosses with the letters "CCCC". The cyrillic acronym refers to a nationalist slogan meaning "Only unity can save the Serb" or "Only Slobodan can save Serbia." Slobodan Milosevic was Serbia's war-time leader.

Asked by this website if Serbian society accepts guilt for Serbian atrocities in the Balkan wars, Stefanovic said that Kosovar Albanians should do more for the peace process.

He noted that Belgrade has indicted several officials for war crimes and that President Boris Tadic has visited memorials of Serbian atrocities in Bosnia and Croatia. "We have nothing to be ashamed of," he said on its post-war record.

Asked if time has come for Tadic to visit a memorial in Kosovo as well, he said: "It's necessary for the process of reconciliation but I think others have to join in first."

"Kosovo society is corrupted by untouchables whose war stories are not questioned at all. They believe the KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army] struggle was pure, that they never did anything wrong. But at the same time evidence is coming out that shows a different side of the story, including really strong accusations against Thaci himself. It's important that both sides go through a process of identifying their own criminals and the crimes they committed".

EU police are currently looking into allegations that Thaci ran a gang which cut out and sold the internal organs of Serb prisoners.

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