Negotiations without result, 16 plus 3 new barricades in the north

Serbia pledged yesterday to maintain the momentum of a tete-a-tete with Kosovo as the fractious Balkan neighbours resumed talks key to Belgrade’s hopes of winning entry to the EU. The...
Serbia pledged yesterday to maintain the momentum of a tete-a-tete with Kosovo as the fractious Balkan neighbours resumed talks key to Belgrade’s hopes of winning entry to the EU. The eighth round of the EU-brokered Belgrade-Pristina dialogue takes place just days before the European Union’s 27 leaders decide whether to grant Serbia its long-awaited wish for candidate status, the first step in the road to full membership.

Pristina, Belgrade, Brussels – Thursday, December 1, 2011 / The independent NewsweeK

“We’ll do our best to pass our differences and to try to find a joint solution that is a compromise,” said Belgrade’s representative Borko Stefanovic on arriving for the one-day encounter.

“We need to focus on resolving problems without any pressure, whether we get the candidacy or not,” he added. “It’s important but not the main reason we have those talks.”  “It will continue regardless of candidacy,” he said of the dialogue that kicked off in March, which as the first direct encounter between the pair since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 had raised huge hopes of reconciliation. 

But new unrest on their flashpoint border, where northern Ksosovo’s majority ethnic Serbs refuse to accept border guards and customs officials sent by the ethnic Albanian government in Pristina, is threatening to derail the talks and scuttle Serbia’s EU dreams.

Pristina negotiatior Edita Tahiri reiterated on arrival her exasperation with the slow pace of implementation of the few agreements achieved over the nine months.

“What I don’t want to see is dialogue that produces only papers,” she said. “We started in March and we still have only papers.”  The aim of the meetings with EU facilitator Robert Cooper is to settle day-to-day problems caused by Kosovo’s breakaway Pristina’s lack of land records and civil registries, and the cutting of telecom and transport links.
At talks a week ago in Brussels, the two sides agreed to recognise each others’ university diplomas.  It was hoped this week’s round might dish up an accord to enable Kosovo to take a seat at regional Balkans bodies involved in issues from trade to migration to transport, a status close to de facto recognition of Pristina.

But also on the table is the hot question of two crossings in northern Kosovo where more than 30 soldiers from the Nato-led KFOR peacekeeping force and scores of civilians have been hurt in a new eruption of violence over the last few days.
The KFOR peacekeepers have been attempting to dismantle roadblocks thrown up by northern Kosovo’s Serbs, who like Belgrade refuse to recognise an independent Kosovo. 

At the Brussels talks, the EU is seeking agreement to a system of “integrated border management”, where crossings would be placed under the joint management of Serbia and Kosovo, with members of the European rule of law mission EULEX-combining officials and police overseeing the posts.

Northern Kosovo Serbs “disappointed” in Tadic

The northern Kosovo Serbs are disappointed by Tadic’s call to remove the barricades, Zubin Potok Mayor Slavisa Ristic said on Wednesday. Mitrovica Mayor Krstimir Pantic has said that the call is confusing and that he believes that it is a result of pressure from Brussels.
They told Belgrades newspaper ‘Politika’ that they would call an emergency joint session of four northern Kosovo Serb municipalities on Thursday in order to discuss the president’s request.

Daily ‘Danas’, on the other hand, writes that the northern Kosovo Serbs are ready for alternative resistance measures if the government decided to implement some temporary measures against them. The daily has learned that criminal charges against Belgrade team chief Borislav Stefanovic will be filed by the local Serb representatives as soon as details about today’s talks with Pristina in Brussels are made public. The daily also added that the northern Kosovo Serb representatives will most likely request a parliament session so the MPs could discuss a change of the state policy which was announced by Tadic.

Crisis threatens Serbia’s EU hopes

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German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the crisis threatened to stall Serbia’s EU integration, Reuters reported. “Serbia must finally make a constructive contribution to this problem,” Westerwelle said in a statement. “Otherwise, it is difficult to see how Serbia can make progress on moving closer to the EU.” Tadic had already conceded as much, saying, “The country is further from EU candidacy today than it was yesterday.”

This was the first time Tadic had directly called for the removal of roadblocks in response to increased calls from the EU and the rest of the international community to do so. The situation in the north had been very “tense since Monday” and KFOR used tear gas on Serbs after the latter had first used tear gas on the NATO forces.

On Nov. 29, Serbs in the village of Jagnjenica, the scene of Nov. 28’s violence, again began dumping sand on the roads, effectively blocking a unit of NATO soldiers from passing and raising questions about the control Belgrade exercises over the region.

Krstimir Pantic, a Serbian political leader in northern Kosovo, said he was “unpleasantly surprised” by Tadic’s statement because “we had the absolute support of the president and the Serbian government to hold out” for four months.

Under the regime of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, Belgrade in 1990 put an end to decades of broad autonomy for Kosovo Albanians and introduced direct rule in the province, where minority Serbs led all institutions. Calls for renewal of autonomy by ethnic Albanians were rejected. This led to armed rebellion by Kosovo Albanian groups, followed by stern Serbian repression in 1998 and 1999.

The international response came by way of 11 weeks of NATO bombing of Serbian installations. The war in Kosovo erupted in 1998 when Serbia launched a brutal crackdown against the Albanian civilians, as well as people fighting for liberation of their country from Serbia. The UN administration was introduced after 11 weeks of NATO bombardment of Serbia due to Belgrade’s repression against two million Kosovo Albanians. 
Since 1999 Kosovo still remains a constant international political conflict between Kosovo Albanians and Serbian governors. More than 80 countries, including the United States and most of the European Union, have recognized the new country, which declared its independence in February 2008.

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