BRUSSELS: Kosovo and Serbia’s presidents met Thursday under EU auspices to resume dialogue aimed at normalizing relations, amid increasing tensions between former foes.
EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was meeting with Kosovo president Hashim Thaci and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic, her spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic tweeted.
This was their first meeting since July 18, after a scheduled meeting in September between the two presidents fell apart at the last minute due to ongoing tensions.
In 2008, a decade after the 1998-1999 war between Serbia’s forces and pro-independence ethnic Albanian guerrillas, Kosovo broke away from Serbia.
Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence, although more than 100 countries, including the United States and most EU member states, have done so.
“In today’s meeting we will reconfirm Kosovo’s full commitment to achieve a legally binding comprehensive agreement with Serbia,” Thaci tweeted ahead of the meeting.
Vucic said he had no big expectations of a breakthrough but said it was necessary to talk, Serbia’s national broadcaster RTS reported, ahead of the meeting.
After the meeting, that lasted less then an hour, Mogherini said it was “decided to remain in constant contact in the coming days to assess the follow up of today’s meeting.”
She urged both sides “to refrain from words, actions and measures that are contrary to the spirit of normalization,” according to a statement released by the EU’s foreign policy service after the meeting.
“The European Union expects Serbia and Kosovo to swiftly deliver on their commitment to the dialogue given the direct link between comprehensive normalization of relations between them and the concrete prospects for their EU aspirations,” Mogherini said.
Both sides need to reach a binding agreement on their ties to make progress toward EU membership.
The talks resumed two days after Kosovo raised taxes on Serbian goods by 10 percent on Tuesday, saying the move was in retaliation for Belgrade’s efforts to thwart recognition of its former province.
Belgrade is also upset with Pristina’s recent decision to form its own army, despite fierce opposition from the ethnic Serb minority and from Serbia. Kosovo’s security is currently ensured by NATO-led KFOR troops.
In addition, the diplomatic deadlock garnered attention over the summer when officials on both sides discussed the possibility of border changes as part of deal to reset ties.
Local media speculated that a Serb-dominated part of Kosovo could be traded for a mostly Albanian region of southern Serbia.
Rights groups have strongly condemned the proposal, warning that redrawing the map could have a dangerous domino effect in the fractured region.
However, some US and European officials have hinted they might accept such a deal.
Earlier this week, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said his country “will support any deal that will be reached between Belgrade and Pristina.
“I assume that the EU will also support it, even if the deal includes a land exchange or border correction deal” between Kosovo and Serbia, Kurz added during a visit to Pristina.