The head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell during a news conference in Ohrid, North Macedonia, Saturday March 18, 2023. BORIS GRDANOSKI / AP
The leaders of Kosovo and Serbia failed to sign an agreement to normalize their relations on Saturday, March 18, during a marathon of talks under the aegis of the European Union (EU).
Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met for 12-hour talks on the shore of Lake Ohrid in North Macedonia, led by the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell. Westerners have increased pressure on Belgrade and Pristina in recent months to prevent a possible eruption of tensions in the fragile Balkan region, while war rages in Ukraine, which was occupied by Russia for more than a year.
The Ohrid meeting came after February talks broke down in Brussels, where an 11-article European peace plan was unveiled, more than two decades after a deadly war between Kosovar independence rebels and Serbian forces.
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Brussels wanted the two parties to agree on an annex for the application of this European proposal aimed at normalizing relations between Serbia and its former province. “The parties have not been able to come up with a mutually acceptable solution that is as ambitious as the one we have proposed,” Josep Borrell told reporters.
“One day okay”
Serbia refuses to recognize the independence of its former province, proclaimed in 2008, whose population of 1.8 million, mostly of Albanian origin, includes a Serb community of around 120,000 people. Since the war that ended with NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, relations between Pristina and Belgrade have evolved from one crisis to another.
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In Ohrid, the two leaders acknowledged that progress had been made but did not hesitate to throw spades at each other.
“The other side avoids signing the agreement and now the annex, just like at the last meeting in Brussels on February 27,” Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti told reporters. “It is now up to the EU to find a mechanism to make this agreement legally and internationally binding,” he added.
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The Serbian President also sulked at the outcome of the meeting. “I think we’ve made a big step in a constructive atmosphere and we’ll start working on things. Of course it wasn’t a D-Day, it was an OK day. »
The European proposal stipulates that the two camps will not use violence to resolve their differences. The draft would result in de facto recognition between Belgrade and Pristina, as it stipulates that both parties “will mutually recognize their respective national documents and symbols”.
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The text also states that “Serbia will not oppose Kosovo’s membership of an international organization,” a key demand from Pristina. At the same time, he proposes granting the Serb minority in Kosovo “an appropriate degree of self-government”.
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The question of Kosovo remains obsessive for some of the 6.7 million Serbs who consider the territory their national and religious cradle, where crucial battles have been fought over the centuries. Thousands of people demonstrated in Belgrade on Friday at the call of nationalist parties against an agreement that they believe would be tantamount to “surrender”.
In Kosovo, with encouragement from Belgrade, many members of the Serb minority are denying any loyalty to Pristina. Especially in the north of the territory, near the border with Serbia, there are frequent clashes, demonstrations and sometimes violence.