Sat, 31 Jul 2021

A first round of talks between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo on June 15 in Brussels failed to make progress towards normalizing relations between the two Balkan neighbors.

Serbian and Kosovar leaders last met a year ago as part of decade-long negotiations aimed at resolving disputes that continue to taint relations more than 20 years after the 1998-1999 Kosovo War.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nearly a decade after the war between ethnic Albanian separatists and the forces of rump Yugoslavia. The war ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign that drove Belgrade's troops out.

For nearly a decade, a NATO-led peacekeeping force (KFOR) provided security while a United Nations administration temporarily ran Kosovo.

Kosovo's independence has been recognized by more than 100 countries including the United States and most of the European Union. But Serbia still considers the territory a southern province, and is supported by Russia and China.

The meeting in Brussels on June 15 was also the first since Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti, a left-wing reformist, claimed a landmark victory in February's parliamentary elections -- pledging to take a new tack in talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

The two leaders gave slightly differing accounts of the meeting, although both admitted a lack of progress.

Vucic said Kurti had 'demanded' Serbian recognition and refused to discuss a 2013 deal to establish 10 Serbian-majority 'municipalities' in Kosovo that has never been implemented

'I've never attended this kind of a meeting in my life. Complete lack of responsibility,' Vucic said in televised comments.

'The man [Kurti] came to ask me -- when are you going to recognize independent Kosovo. I told him, 'Never,' and he exploded.'

For his part, Kurti called the talks 'constructive.'

'We will take part in this process which is difficult,' he told Kosovar media, adding: 'The Serbian side talked about old proposals, we brought four new proposals which were refused by the Serbian side.'

Despite EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell's initially optimistic assessment that 'there is a new momentum' in discussing the unsolved issues of the Western Balkans, EU envoy Miroslav Lajcak admitted that 'it was not an easy meeting.'

'Both leaders had a very open and frank exchange on what they each want from the dialogue,' Lajcak said.

Both sides agreed to push ahead with the talks and Lajcak said a new round would happen before the end of July.

Both Washington and Brussels insist that normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina is essential for their further integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions.

With reporting by AFP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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