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Albanian, Serbian PMs Clash Over Kosovo During Historic Visit

  • RFE/RL's Balkan Service

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama (left) and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic at a contentious press conference in Belgrade on November 10

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama (left) and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic at a contentious press conference in Belgrade on November 10

The prime ministers of Albania and Serbia have traded sharp words during a landmark visit aimed at reducing tensions over Kosovo and minority rights.

Speaking at a news conference in Belgrade on November 10, Albania's Edi Rama urged Serbia to accept the independence of Albanian-majority Kosovo, saying, "The sooner you recognize it, the sooner we can move ahead."

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who had earlier praised Rama's visit as "turning the page" to the future, angrily blasted Rama's remark as a "provocation."

He added that Serbia would never recognize the independence of its former province.

The press conference ended without the two men shaking hands, although Vucic did stress that the countries were preparing to sign a key agreement allowing document-free travel between Serbia and Albania.

That agreement is seen as important to Serbia's minority Albanians, who live mainly in the country's southern Presevo Valley.

Rama is due to travel to the Presevo Valley on November 11 before returning to Albania.

The squabble comes as Serbia and Albania, both EU candidate countries, face pressure to reduce regional tensions, particularly over Kosovo.

More than 100 countries have recognized Kosovo as a sovereign state since it declared independence from Serbia in February 2008.

Belgrade has begun to normalize some ties with the government of Kosovo but has stopped short of recognition.

Vucic's outburst surprised many journalists at the press conference, who had not been provided with a translation of Rama's remarks in Albanian and were at first unaware that he had mentioned the contentious issue of Kosovo.

Only Vucic, who was receiving a translation through an earpiece, heard Rama's remarks.

The Serbian Broadcasting Corporation, which was carrying a live feed of the press conference, later apologized for failing to provide a translation, saying it was a technical error.

The clash lent a sour note to what was meant to be a historic diplomatic visit, with Rama the first Albanian head of government to visit Serbia in 68 years.

The last such meeting took place in Belgrade in 1946 between Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito and Albania's longtime communist leader, Enver Hoxha.

Rama's visit was originally scheduled for October but was postponed after a drone carrying a Greater Albanian flag sparked violence at a Serbia-Albania soccer match.

Serbian officials blamed Rama's brother, Olsi Rama, for the stunt. Olsi Rama denied involvement.

Ethnic Albanian residents of Kosovo reacted heatedly to the November 10 press conference, comparing the squabble to a "second" drone incident.

Political analysts in Serbia have suggested that Rama broke diplomatic protocol by raising a topic of obvious disagreement at a live press conference.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa
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