Serbia, Kosovo leaders fail to meet at EU-brokered talks

Brussels/Belgrade: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic refused to meet his Kosovan counterpart Hashim Thaci at talks on Friday in Brussels aimed at normalising relations between the two erstwhile foes, a senior Serbian official said.
The European Union has been brokering negotiations for seven years between Serbia and Kosovo, which broke free of Belgrade’s rule in the 1990s following the collapse of Yugoslavia. The bloc is offering the prospect of EU membership if they overcome their differences.
But “difficulties remain,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Friday, following “several rounds of talks” with Vucic and Thaci. The two leaders did not meet directly, an EU source confirmed on condition of anonymity.
Marko Djuric, the head of Serbia’s Kosovo office, told reporters that Vucic made the decision because of all the “lies, deceits and threats” from the Kosovan leadership, adding that it was uncertain when the dialogue would resume.
Vucic is scheduled to visit Kosovo’s Serbian population over the weekend.
Meanwhile, Mogherini said she would convene another round of talks in the coming weeks, ahead of the United Nations General Assembly, which begins on September 18.
“I trust the full commitment of both presidents to continue the process and reach in the coming months a legally binding agreement on comprehensive normalisation of relations, in line with international law,” she added.
Mogherini has been pushing for both sides to resolve their differences by next year, which is the 20th anniversary of the war in Kosovo, as well as the final year of her mandate.
During his visit to Kosovo’s Serb minority, Vucic is due to explain to them a controversial land swap proposal which he has floated as away to end volatility in the region.
The plan, which has not yet been fleshed out in detail, foresees an exchange of Serb-dominated northern Kosovo for a largely ethnic Albanian part of southern Serbia.
Thaci appeared initially in favour but has since backtracked, under pressure from his coalition partner, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj.
The plan has also drawn international concern, in part over fears that it could reopen old wounds in the restive region, with Germany among those most strongly opposed.
However, EU Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn said both sides should be allowed to discuss the idea and expressed confidence that they would both “act responsibly,” in comments to German daily Die Welt.
Majority-Albanian Kosovo rejected Belgrade’s rule in 1998. Serbia’s violent response spurred Nato to intervene, ousting Belgrade’s forces the following year.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008, eventually winning recognition from most of the EU’s 28 member states, although five still refuse to do so. Serbia and its ally Russia also remain opposed to the move.
The EU-brokered negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo led to a framework agreement in 2013.
— dpa