Saturday

13th Aug 2022

Kosovo and Serbia to resume EU-brokered talks

  • Nato had to step up its presence in order to defuse tensions (Photo: KFOR, Helmut Vogl)

Kosovo and Serbia are going back to the EU-facilitated negotiation table on Friday, after talks broke down in July and violence escalated in the north of the former Serbian province, jeopardising Belgrade's EU membership ambitions.

"I can confirm that the talks will resume on Friday (2 September) and that they are facilitated by [top diplomat]Robert Cooper," a spokeswoman for foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told this website on Wednesday (31 August).

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The talks will deal with the thorny issue of customs stamps. The two sides were in such disagreement on the issue that Cooper called off the last meeting scheduled on 20 July.

The Kosovo authorities subsequently moved to reinforce a trade ban with Serbia, sparking angry protests in the majority-Serb northern part of the country. One Kosovo policeman died in cross-fire, border barracks were set ablaze and road barricades were lifted only after Nato stepped in.

The EU police mission to the country, Eulex, on Wednesday said it had launched a criminal investigation into the killing of the Kosovo policeman, Enver Zymberi.

Even as it repeatedly stressed it will never recognise the independence of Kosovo, declared in 2008, the Serbian government is keen on resuming talks, which are key to Belgrade's EU membership aspirations.

After having delivered the last two war criminal suspects to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Serbia expected to be granted official EU candidate status this autumn.

But the violent events in northern Kosovo and a blunt remark by German chancellor Angela Merkel that Belgrade needs to "normalise relations" with its former province if it wants to join the EU means the status is no longer a given.

"The summer was not so great and it led to events that we believed were in the past," Merkel said at a press conference in Belgrade last week. She specifically asked for Serbia to resume talks with Kosovo and "abolish parallel structures" in the northern part of the province - such as courts and administrative outlets.

Serbian President Boris Tadic, who has made EU accession a top priority for his government, said however that the question of Kosovo's independence is a "red line" he could not cross even if it meant throwing EU membership plans off course.

And despite attempts by UN Security Council member Russia, a staunch Serbian ally, to criticise only Pristina, UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday criticised both sides and called on them to refrain from one-sided acts which could jeopardise the EU-brokered talks.

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The EU on Wednesday said the escalation of violence at the Kosovo-Serbian border is "unacceptable" and called on both Pristina and Belgrade to defuse tensions "immediately" after one Kosovo policeman was killed and border posts set on fire.

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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.

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