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Kosovo Bans Serbian Officials In New Diplomatic Dispute

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Kosovar President Hashim Thaci (left) shakes hands with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Tirana on May 9.

PRISTINA -- Kosovo has banned all Serbian officials from entering the country, in another escalation of relations between Serbia and its former province.

Pristina "will not allow any official from Belgrade to visit Kosovo," Jetlir Zyberaj, an adviser to Kosovo’s foreign minister, posted to his Facebook page on July 4.

Zyberaj said the move was a response to "constant propaganda and false news about the country and our citizens."

He also accused Belgrade of trying to create a "so-called humanitarian crisis” in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo.

In comments to RFE/RL, Serbian lawmaker Miroslav Lazanski of the coalition led by the Serbian Progressive Party described Kosovo’s move as "a serious step in deteriorating relations” between Belgrade and Pristina.

He also said that Serbia could take a similar action toward Kosovar officials.

Kosovo, which is mainly ethnic Albanian, declared independence in 2008. Although more than 110 countries recognize Kosovo, Belgrade does not.

EU-mediated talks between Pristina and Belgrade to settle their differences have stalled, and the neighbors frequently clash on the diplomatic stage.

Tensions between the two neighbors exacerbated after Kosovo imposed a 100 percent tariff on all Serbian goods in November.

Belgrade has claimed that the tariffs created a humanitarian crisis in Kosovo’s north, but Pristina insists that goods coming from Serbia have been replaced by imports from other countries in recent months.

On July 3, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that Serbia is using "alternative" mountain tracks to send goods to northern Kosovo to avoid having to pay the import tax.

In May, Kosovo banned Serbia's Prime Minister Ana Brnabic after accusing of her of making "racist" comments against Albanians, which she denied.

Speaking to RFE/RL on July 4 in Belgrade, Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee, urged the two sides to return to negotiations as soon as possible.

"I would urge both sides to begin talking right away. If there’s no discussion, there’s no progress, there’s no movement," Engel said following a two-day visit to Serbia, where he held talks with Vucic.

"I think it’s important that Serbia recognizes and understands that there is an independent state of Kosovo and that independent state is there to stay,” Engel added.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and Reuters
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