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Kosovo Election Winner Not In Hurry To Renew Serbia Talks

Albin Kurti, leader of the center-left Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party (file photo)
Albin Kurti, leader of the center-left Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party (file photo)

The leader of the center-left party that won a plurality of votes in Kosovo's early parliamentary elections on October 6 says he isn't hankering to restart formal talks designed to normalize relations with neighboring Serbia.

In an interview with the Associated Press published on October 8, Vetevendosje party chief Albin Kurti, who is poised to become the next prime minister, said that Pristina-Belgrade negotiations aren’t currently at the top of his list of things to do.

"It cannot be top priority on day one of me as a new prime minister," he said.

His party defeated center-right groupings that were formed by former fighters from the Kosovo Liberation Army who had been in power for more than a decade.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a decade of fighting an insurgent war amid a crackdown by former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Serbia, China, Russia and five European Union countries don’t recognize Kosovo’s statehood, although more than 110 countries do.

Dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo started in 2011, but has since stalled. A bone of contention includes a 100 percent tariff on Serbian goods.

"Only after the principle of reciprocity has been put in place, [then] we can lift the tariffs," Kurti told AP, referring to 33 deals signed between Kosovo and Serbia.

Both the EU's probable future foreign-policy chief, Josep Borrell, and the new U.S. special envoy to Kosovo-Serbia, Richard Grenell, have stated that normalizing relations between the neighboring countries is a priority.

Until tensions defuse and relations stabilize, the EU has said prospects of Kosovo and Serbia joining the 28-member bloc remain dim.

Kurti is scheduled to meet Grenell, currently the U.S. ambassador to Germany, on October 9.

Kurti, who spent 2 ½ years in a Serbian prison for his pro-independence actions, has already sparked the ire of Belgrade.

When asked about a ethnic-Serbian minister in his future government, a constitutional requirement, Kurti said he preferred "a Serb minister who comes from those Serbs who recognize the independence of Kosovo."

This prompted a furious reaction from Belgrade with Marko Djuric, the Serbian official in charge of Kosovar affairs, accusing Kurti of being an "extremist" who was "stomping" on the democratic rights of Kosovo-Serbs.

Following the elections, Kurti's Vetevendosje party asked the center-right Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) to form a coalition government.

EU observers say Kosovo's elections were "well-administered and transparent," but pointed out shortcomings including the "intimidation" of ethnic Serbs by the main political force that represents the country's Serb minority -- the Belgrade-backed Serb List party.

It won the 10 seats in Kosovo’s 120-seat legislature that are reserved for ethnic Serbs.

With reporting by AP
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