Serbia, Kosovo leaders set for EU-backed talks on Aug 18

Serbia, Kosovo leaders set for EU-backed talks on Aug 18

The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo have agreed to meet in Brussels this month to discuss ways to end the stalemate in European Union-brokered talks aimed at improving relations between them as ethnic tensions simmer, a European Commission spokesman said Friday.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell hopes to hold talks with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in the same room, rather than shuttling between them as has been the case in the past, on August 18, Borrell’s spokesman Peter Stano told reporters.

The EU-backed Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue, which is aimed at normalizing relations between the neighbors and former foes, has been at a virtual standstill for years and the leaders appear to agree on very little.

But Stano said: “Hey. We have an agreement. They agreed on the date and they agreed on the time.”

He described the meeting as “a very important step,” which provides “another opportunity to try to move all the other issues forward.”

Both countries are striving to join the 27-nation bloc, and success in the EU-backed talks is vital to their chances.

Kosovo was part of Serbia until an armed uprising in 1998-1999 by the territory’s ethnic Albanian majority triggered a bloody crackdown by the Serbs. NATO later bombed Serbia to force its troops out of Kosovo and halt a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

In 2008, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence but Serbia refuses to recognize the move.

On Monday, Kosovo authorities moved to ease mounting ethnic tensions in the country by delaying a controversial order on vehicle license plates and identity cards that triggered riots by minority Serbs, who put up roadblocks, sounded air raid sirens and fired guns into the air.

The NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo warned that it was “prepared to intervene if stability is jeopardized” and that it would “take whatever measures are necessary to keep a safe and secure environment in Kosovo at all times, in line with its UN mandate.” [AP]

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