29th Sep 2023

Borrell urges Kosovo to ease tensions with Serbs

  • EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell met the Kosovo and Serb leaders in separate rooms over four hours in Brussels (Photo:
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The EU has urged Kosovo to back down in a dangerous confrontation with ethnic Serbs seeking more independence.

Kosovo should "immediately" pull back security forces, withdraw disputed mayors, and hold new local elections in the ethnic trouble-spots in northern Kosovo, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday (22 June).

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It should also let locals form their own Association of Serb Majority Municipalities, in line with a 2013 international accord on quasi-autonomy for the region, Borrell said.

He spoke after meeting Kosovo prime minister Albin Kurti and Serb president Aleksandar Vučić in Brussels.

But Kurti and Vučić stayed in separate rooms during the four-hour long crisis talks, in a sign of raw nerves.

Trouble flared four weeks ago when Kosovo Serbs boycotted local elections and Kurti installed four ethnic Albanian mayors in the Serbs' home turf, on a turnout of just 3 percent.

Violent ethnic-Serb protests have injured Nato soldiers from the Kfor peacekeeping mission, as well as Kosovo police, journalists, and ordinary people.

Serbia has detained three Kosovo policemen saying they had strayed across the border, while Kosovo says they were kidnapped from their own side of the line.

And Vučić gave Borrell a report on alleged Kosovo police brutality against Serb protesters in Brussels on Thursday.

"This cannot continue," Borrell said.

"Here is the core of the problem and also the core of the solution — early elections, as soon as possible," he added.

"We agreed on the need for new elections and discussed in detail the modalities and the steps on how to get there. They are still not there, but at least we know how to proceed," Borrell said.

For its part, Kosovo has also accused Vučić of stirring up the Serb protests across the border.

And Borrell acknowledged that the Serbian leader had a role to play to restore calm.

Serbia had "to ensure that protestors will withdraw from the municipal building simultaneously with the withdrawal of the Kosovo police," Borrell said on Thursday.

It should also "immediately and unconditionally" release the three Kosovo policemen it held, he added.

The EU's judicial mission in Kosovo would look into Vučić's dossier of alleged brutality, Borrell also promised.

"Arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of prisoners is completely unacceptable," he said.

Speaking to press after Thursday's talks, Kurti said he would only re-run the local elections if ethnic Serbs signed a petition for him to do so.

"Every condition [by the EU and US] that is in violation with Kosovo's laws I cannot fulfil," he said, according to Reuters.

"If we stick to our laws, of our democratic republic, they provide enough of a frame and platform to get out from this crisis. We just need goodwill," Kurti added.

Vučić said it "makes no sense" to speak with Kurti face-to-face, but that he'd continue talks via EU mediators.

"We will continue to talk on a daily basis because we believe peace and stability are of crucial importance," he said. But Serbs "do not want to suffer Kurti's terror," he added.

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