December 3, 2011 573 Lexime
Serbia has denied reports that a deal has been reached to defuse a border dispute with Kosovo. Belgrade is under pressure to reach a deal ahead of a summit to decide whether to name Serbia as an EU candidate state.
Belgrade, SERBIA – Saturday, December 3, 2011 / The independent NewsweeK
Serbia has denied reports that it has reached an agreement with Kosovo to jointly manage disputed border crossings along their common frontier.
“Despite all our efforts today, the deal has not been reached,” Belgrade’s chief negotiator, Borislav Stefanovic told the Tanjug news agency late Friday. “Although we came significantly closer, we still need to put the dot on the ‘i’.”
Stefanovic added that his delegation would continue negotiations “with the same faith and optimism” on Saturday.
Stefanovic’s comments came just hours after the European Union’s foreign affairs office, which has been sponsoring talks between Serbia and Kosovo, announced the agreement.
The Kosovo delegation also appeared to believe the agreement was a done deal.
“We finally reached an agreement on an integrated management of border crossings. Both sides agreed to implement the European model on all six crossings,” said Edita Tahiri, Kosovo’s chief negotiator.
Whether the talks would continue on Saturday also wasn’t clear, as Tahiri said her delegation was set to return to Pristina.
The border crossings have been a smoldering source of tension since Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian central government sent its security forces to take control of the crossings on its northern border in July. Ethnic Serbs, who are predominant in northern Kosovo, set up roadblocks that cut off the roads to the border crossings.
On Monday, 30 German and Austrian soldiers – part of NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) – were wounded in clashes with Serbs when the soldiers tried to dismantle the roadblocks.
LONG ROAD TO EUROPE
Belgrade has been under intense pressure to reach a compromise to defuse the border dispute, with the European Union set to vote on whether Serbia should be granted status as a candidate for membership during a summit meeting on December 9.
Serbia has recently stepped up its campaign to join the EU, arresting alleged war criminals such as Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic earlier this year.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has placed Serbia’s potential EU candidate status in question in the aftermath of the clashes.
Merkel said Friday that Serbia “stands accused of contributing in recent days to an atmosphere where German peacekeepers in the north of Kosovo have been attacked with guns and wounded,” adding that the incident was “not acceptable.”
The chancellor went on to say that Serbia could only join the EU “through the normalization of its relations with Kosovo” and that “Serbia has so far not lived up to these expectations sufficiently.”
Belgrade lost control of Kosovo in 1999 after a NATO bombing campaign was launched to stop alleged war crimes committed by Serbs against ethnic Albanians. In 2008, Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia, though Belgrade still considers Kosovo a Serbian province.
More than 80 countries have now recognized Kosovo as an independent state, including the United States and most members of the European Union.
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