PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo meet in Brussels on Tuesday to continue talks on the implementation of a European Union-backed 11-point plan to normalize ties between the two, but tensions continue to simmer.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will convene the high-level meeting between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti. They are expected to endorse a declaration on missing persons and also discuss the first draft statute on the creation of an association of Serb majority municipalities in Kosovo — two delicate issues for the former war foes.
The meeting follows one in February when both leaders gave tacit approval to the EU-sponsored plan to end months of political crises, and a March summit in North Macedonia where Belgrade and Pristina tentatively agreed on how to implement the plan.
Miroslav Lajcak, Borrell’s envoy for the Belgrade-Pristina negotiations, said Tuesday’s meeting is “a crucial step forward and it’s important to avoid any actions that could worsen the atmosphere.”
Few of the agreements reached between the two countries in the 12-year-long EU-facilitated negotiations have been applied. Brussels and the United States often intervene to calm down tense situations between Belgrade and Pristina, more so in the past year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Belgrade insists Pristina must implement a 2013 agreement to establish an association of the municipalities in the north of Kosovo that have a Serb-majority population. It would coordinate work on education, health care, land planning and economic development at the local level. Kosovo’s Constitutional Court later declared the plan unconstitutional, ruling it wasn’t inclusive of other ethnicities and could entail the use of executive powers.
Serbia says no progress is possible in the talks before the association is tackled. Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said Kosovo will try to avoid any movement on the topic.
“We heard the same 10 years ago. Everyone was thrilled that it was a historic act. Ten years passed and the association of Serb municipalities did not happen,” said Dacic.
Local elections were held last month in Serb-dominated communes in northern Kosovo after Serb representatives had left their posts last year. The vote was overwhelmingly boycotted by ethnic Serbs.
Vucic praised the vote boycott and sharply criticized Western officials, calling them liars and frauds. He said the Serb minority in the former Serbian province will no longer tolerate foreign “occupation.”
The talks will also tackle the issue of the more than 1,600 people still officially missing since the 1998-99 war. Kosovo accuses Serbia of hiding their locations.
The EU rule of law mission in Kosovo, or EULEX, says it is difficult to find the bodies as many were buried in small, unmarked graves or even in cemeteries, in an effort by the perpetrators to make the search for the missing more difficult and to hide evidence. Most of the missing are ethnic Albanians, while a few are Serbs.
“The international community will pressure both Prime Minister Kurti and President Vucic to continue with a constructive approach, because that is the only way forward,” said Kosovar analyst Artan Muhaxheri.
Kosovo is a former Serbian province. The 1998-1999 war in Kosovo with a majority ethnic Albanian erupted when separatist ethnic Albanians rebelled against Serbia’s rule, and Belgrade responded with a brutal crackdown. About 13,000 people died, mostly ethnic Albanians. In 1999 a NATO military intervention forced Serbia to pull out of the territory. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, which is not recognized by Serbia.
Semini reported from Tirana, Albania; Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade. ___ Follow Llazar Semini on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lsemini