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17th Nov 2019

Interview

Serbia defends plan for north Kosovo autonomy

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic is still promoting the idea of autonomy for ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, but only if Pristina agrees.

Speaking to EUobserver in Brussels on Friday (18 January) following the last round of EU-mediated talks with Kosovo leader Hashim Thaci, he said: "Serbia has autonomies within itself ... so why should this be unacceptable only in Kosovo, compared to the rest of Europe? I mean it's acceptable everywhere else."

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Serbian MPs recently adopted a resolution saying Serb enclaves, such as north Kosovo, should run their own courts and police forces under self-rule comparable to the Spanish region of Catalonia.

The plan was rejected by Pristina and by the EU, which noted that foreign ministers in December called for a "single" Kosovo administration.

The Friday meeting did not tackle the plan.

It agreed instead that customs duties from north-Kosovo-Serbia crossing points should go into an EU-run fund which will funnel them back to the region.

Dacic said Serb enclaves will be discussed in the next round of talks in February.

He noted that Belgrade has not stepped back from its position on autonomy despite the negative reactions. He also said it will not discuss Kosovo recognition.

But he voiced a willingness to compromise for the sake of better relations.

"Serbia is ready to discuss how to overcome the parallelism of institutions in Kosovo, to agree to institutions that would be acceptable both for Pristina and for the Serbs ... the name of these Serbian communities [in Kosovo] is going to be a subject of this agreement," he added.

A deal on Serb enclaves could be decisive for whether EU countries agree to open accession talks with Serbia in Spring.

But some of Dacic and Thaci's latest remarks show the two sides remain far apart.

Thaci last Thursday told this website Serbia must extract security forces run by its interior ministry from north Kosovo.

Dacic said they do not exist: "There are definitely no security activities or actions in Kosovo that might be carried out in Kosovo by the ministry of interior of the Republic of Serbia."

Amid feeling in Kosovo that Serbs do not accept responsibility for their part in 1990s war crimes, Dacic, a wartime spokesman for the political party of Serbia's late, notorious leader, Slobodan Milosevic, defended Milosevic's reputation.

"It is true that he made some mistakes, but he was not the only one who made mistakes. Other nations also made mistakes ... I believe that all of them together bear a huge responsibility for everything that happened," Dacic said.

He noted that Serbia was left alone to protect its interests in the break-up of former Yugoslavia despite the fact that Europe owes it a debt.

"Serbia did not deserve such treatment by the international community because the international community forgot what Serbia gave it from its history ... Starting with the Turks - what happened 600 years ago, when we defended Europe from Turkish invasion, all the way to the First World war in which half of the male population was killed and the Second World War in which we lost 1 million inhabitants," he said.

"We were in the position that after everything that happened, our people became big losers in the dissolution of former Yugoslavia," he added.

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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