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13th Jul 2020

EU 'not biased' in Kosovo border dispute

  • EU's police mission Eulex is not popular in Kosovo (Photo: jonworth.eu)

The EU on Wednesday (3 August) rejected Belgrade's accusation that it is biased in its attempt to mediate the week-long stand-off with Pristina over the deployment of special police forces in the majority-Serb northern Kosovo.

"We are not biased in any way. We have no preference whatsoever. What is important for us is that dialogue is resumed and problem is resolved in a pragmatic way," EU foreign policy spokesman Michael Mann said in a press conference.

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On Tuesday, Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic accused the EU and Nato of siding with Pristina in the stand-off which last week escalated to deadly clashes between armed Serbs and Kosovo police.

"Representatives of the international community must remain neutral and must not take sides, which they do by refusing to talk to legitimate representatives of the Republic of Serbia and by blocking food convoys, which can lead to a humanitarian catastrophe," Cvetkovic said in a statement.

Robert Cooper, the EU mediator sent to the region on Monday, has held consultations with both sides and suggested some concrete proposals of how to deal with Kosovo border guards, whose official status is not recognised by Belgrade.

According to German press agency DPA, the compromise would entail Kosovo policemen to be seconded by representatives of the Serb minority, which outnumbers the Kosovo Albanians in the northern part of the country. In return, the Serb-made road blocks would have to be dismantled.

Both parties would have to re-engage in dialogue to resolve the trade dispute that has already claimed the life of a Kosovo policeman. Belgrade refuses to recognise customs stamps issued by Pristina, for fear this may be equated with recognition of its independence.

Serbia, backed by five EU countries and Russia, has so far resisted to accept the new status of its former province, which declared its independence in 2008 and was so far recognised by 78 countries around the world.

An EU-mediated dialogue had been hailed as a breakthrough in June, when the two sides agreed to facilitate cross-border travel for their citizens. But talks have since broken down and the rhetoric on both sides is far from calm.

Goran Bogdanovic, the minister in the Serbian government responsible for Kosovo affairs, on Wednesday accused Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci of wanting "to draw us into a war."

In Pristina, Prime Minister Thaci said his government would not bow to the EU demand of rolling back the trade embargo with Serbia, which was enforced by the contested police troops.

"The state of Kosovo has presented a clear stance in its meeting with Robert Cooper. There is no going back to the status quo," he said in a statement, adding that it was Kosovo's "constitutional right" to enforce the full control of its northern border.

Nato, which has beefed up its 6,000-strong presence with one German battalion, has said that the tensions are easing.

"The priority now is to maintain a safe and secure environment," Nato spokeswoman Carmen Romero said Tuesday. Serb protesters in charge of the barricades had briefly stopped Nato's top commander in the region, general Erhard Buehler as he was heading to meet top Kosovo officials.

Meanwhile, Nato has managed to secure that two border crossings in northern Kosovo - Jarinje and Brnjak - remain open for small vehicles and busses but no truck carrying goods are allowed to enter from Serbia.

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