Kosovo and Montenegro have agreed on a process for resolving disagreements over a border demarcation deal between the two countries, taking a step that could enable Kosovo to gain visa-free travel to the European Union.
Kosovar President Hashim Thaci and Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic announced on February 16 that they agreed to create a cabinet-level working group charged with correcting "mistakes" in a 2015 demarcation accord that has been blocked by opposition in Kosovo. Montenegro already has ratified the agreement.
"Now there is a possibility to proceed and vote on the deal and open the way to visa liberalization for the citizens of Kosovo," Thaci said, calling on the parliament to schedule a vote on ratifying the 2015 demarcation agreement.
Kosovo's opposition parties have blocked the agreement for years, using tactics such as setting off tear gas in parliament. They claim it would wrongly hand over some 8,000 hectares of territory to Montenegro.
On February 16, Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who previously led opposition to the border agreement, threw his support behind the deal reached with Montenegro.
The European Union’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, also welcomed the new agreement.
“This shows that even complicated issues can move forward," she said at a news conference in Sofia. "Now obviously we not only welcome all efforts in the spirit of good neighborly relations, but also we are ready to support the full implementation of this agreement.”
The EU has said Kosovo must ratify the border agreement with Montenegro to gain visa-free access to the bloc. Kosovo is the only country in the Balkans region whose citizens currently need visas to travel to EU member states.
Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina obtained visa-free access to Europe's border-free Schengen zone in 2010.
One Kosovo political party, the Self-Determination Movement Party, said it would continue to oppose the border deal, however, calling the announced deal to work out problems between the two countries "unfair and deceitful."
Meanwhile, the Caribbean country of Barbados on February 16 became the 116th country to recognize Kosovo's independence.
Kosovo's 1.8 million citizens are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the former Serbian province's declaration of independence on February 17.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson late on February 16 congratulated Kosovo on its decade of independence and praised it for "maturing into a more stable, democratic and inclusive country."
"The United States continues to support Kosovo’s citizens as they work to strengthen democratic and multiethnic institutions, increase economic growth, and bolster the rule of law on the path toward full integration in the international community," Tillerson said.
With reporting by AP and Reuters