Kurti, Vucic Trade Blame as Tensions in North Kosovo Worry EU


As Kosovo’s prime minister and Serbia’s president continued to trade accusations, claiming that the other is unwilling to make a deal on a long-promised Serb-majority municipalities body, the EU remains worried about tensions in northern Kosovo.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti blamed Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic on Friday for failing to sign an agreement to normalise relations after talks in Brussels the previous day failed to yield progress on the establishment of the long-debated Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities, intended to safeguard the minority Serb community’s interests in Kosovo.

“After more than ten years of insistence on Association [of Serb-Majority Municipalities in Kosovo], Serbia yesterday refused to sign a draft for self-management which was brought by the EU and the US,” Kurti told journalists in Pristina.

“He often repeats that he accepts the agreement as a concept but not as content while demanding limited implementation. This is a direct attack on the agreement itself,” Kurti added.

Kurti insisted that any new agreement with Serbia should be formally signed.

“A signature is acceptance and a guarantee of implementation,” he said.

The leaders of the three biggest EU states, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, tried on Thursday to get Kosovo and Serbia’s leaders to commit to implementing the agreement on normalisation of relations and establishing the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities.

On Thursday evening, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told media that in order to help Serbia and Kosovo to reach a deal on the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities, “we presented a new, serious and balanced European proposal” and “insisted the parties to take this opportunity, which would be a great leap forward in the normalisation process, and avoid new spirals of violence”.

“But unhappily, the parties were not ready to agree on that without preconditions that were unacceptable to the other party,” Borrell said.

After the meeting, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told media that the new European proposal for the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities, which was presented to him on October 21 in Belgrade, is a “good basis” for further work but that Serbia will not accept UN membership for Kosovo any formulation that refers to Kosovo’s “territorial integrity”.

“I was saying from the very beginning, that I was ready and that we were ready to fulfil everything, except things that would lead us to de facto or de jure recognition of Kosovo’s independence, UN membership status and the territorial integrity of Kosovo,” Vucic said.

Asked if he refused to sign the agreement on the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities, Vucic responded that “there was no question of signing or not signing something”, adding that an agreement on the association had already been signed back in 2013 in Brussels.

“This is something that was signed that had to be fulfilled, but it wasn’t fulfilled in the past ten years, almost 11 years,” he added.

EU expresses security concerns

On Friday, the European Council expressed concerns about the security situation in the north of Kosovo, which continues to be tense a month after a group of armed Serbs attacked Kosovo police officers near the northern town of Zvecan on September 24.

They killed one police sergeant, and three members of the armed group were also killed during a police operation the same day.

“Kosovo and Serbia must pursue sustained de-escalation efforts, as well as ensure the holding of new elections in the north of Kosovo as soon as possible, with the active participation of Kosovo Serbs,” a European Council statement said.

“Failure to de-escalate the tensions will have consequences,” it added.

A history of broken deals

In March, the European Union announced that two leaders orally agreed on implementing an EU-backed plan for the normalisation of ties at a meeting in Ohrid in North Macedonia.

But at the separate press conferences that followed the supposed breakthrough meeting, Kurti and Vucic put very different spins on it. Vucic kept insisting that he did not sign anything.

Before the Ohrid meeting, experts told BIRN that any deal could only be implemented under international pressure.

As a BIRN analysis in September showed, six months after the oral agreement in Ohrid, the two sides only made efforts to endorse a declaration on missing persons and establish a joint committee to monitor implementation of the agreement. The rest of the agreement went unfulfilled.

Ten days before the attack in north Kosovo in September, Vucic and Kurti met in Brussels, but no progress was registered and recriminations have continued since then. The EU later warned that non implementation of previously made agreements caries risk of losing “opportunities for progressing on their European paths”.

For years, Kosovo and Serbia have traded accusations over which side is responsible for the failure to implement agreements reached in Brussels since the dialogue process started in 2011, first on technical issues and then involving top political leaders.

Negotiations led to the so-called Brussels Agreement in 2013, which envisaged the establishment of an Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities to represent Serb interests in those areas of Kosovo where they form the majority.

Two years after, in August 2015, Kosovo and Serbia’s prime ministers signed an agreement on the competencies of the Association, but most of them were later ruled unconstitutional by Kosovo’s courts. Since then, the idea has remained on paper, a casualty of continuing political tensions between the countries.

Kosovo broke away from Serbia during the 1998-99 war and declared its independence in 2008. It has long been recognised by most Western countries, but not by five EU member states, or by Russia, China, Serbia and others. Serbia has since declared it will never recognise its former province’s independence, and added this to its constitution in 2006.

Since the end of the 1998-99 war, Serbia has continued to operate a parallel state system in Kosovo among the Serb community, issuing documents, licence plates and other papers for them.

After some failed attempts, Serbia and Kosovo in August 2011 signed a so-called agreement on freedom of movement.

This was mostly about car licence plates and identity documents and regulated the way people can move through Kosovo and cross the border with Serbia. It was extended in 2016 for five more years.

When the Kosovo government in 2021 decided not to extend it again, and said it would no longer tolerate use of Serbian-issued licence plates, the two countries entered a year-and-a-half-long political and security crisis.

Kosovo Serbs set up barricades in September 2021 over the licence plates dispute. This was ‘solved’ with a temporary sticker system solution.

But no final solution was found, and the crisis wasn’t quelled for long. It erupted again in August 2022, this time in an atmosphere polluted by echoes of the war in Ukraine. A new deal was made in November 2022, but both sides still interpret it differently.

Source : Balkaninsight