U.S., EU urge Kosovo to honour local autonomy deal for Serb region – Metro US

U.S., EU urge Kosovo to honour local autonomy deal for Serb region

FILE PHOTO: U.S. and EU flags are pictured during the
FILE PHOTO: U.S. and EU flags are pictured during the visit of Vice President Pence to the European Commission headquarters in Brussels

PRISTINA (Reuters) – European Union and U.S. envoys urged Kosovo on Wednesday to implement a deal granting more autonomy to Serb-majority municipalities that was signed as part of a normalisation process between Pristina and Belgrade.

Ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a late 1990s uprising. Kosovo committed to EU-mediated talks in 2013 to resolve outstanding issues but the process has stumbled over concessions to Serb municipalities.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has balked at carrying out the deal signed by his predecessor, saying it undermines the Balkan country’s sovereignty by giving wide autonomy to Serbs who comprise five percent of the population.

“There is an universal principle that says what was agreed must be implemented and this is what we are telling both parties…There is a list of things that you still have to do, for both Kosovo and Serbia, and association is one of them,” EU special mediator Miroslav Lajcak said.

He was speaking after talks in the Kosovo capital Pristina with Gabriel Escobar, the U.S. Special Representative for the Western Balkans, and Kosovo government leaders. The two will travel on to Belgrade for talks with Serbian leaders.

Escobar also called for the deal on Serb municipalities to be implemented, saying Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity was guaranteed. “Beyond that, how Serbia and Kosovo get to a place of normalisation should be left to the dialogue.”

Kurti, commenting on the talks, said Kosovo Serbs already have minority rights in line with the highest EU democratic standards and warrant no more concessions, and he again called for Serbia to recognise Kosovo’s independence.

Nearly half of Kosovo’s Serbs lives in the northern part of the country, bordering on Serbia, and they have refused to recognise the ethnic Albanian-led government in Pristina.

Serbia lost control of its former southern province in 1999 when NATO waged a bombing campaign to halt killings of ethnic Albanians in a two-year counter-insurgency war.

Kosovo’s independence is recognised by the United States and most EU countries, but not by Russia, a close ally of Serbia.

Serbia is holding accession talks with the EU but needs to resolve all outstanding issues with Kosovo to join the bloc.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Mark Heinrich)