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At EU Talks, Serbia Unmoved On Kosovo's Independence


Kosovar Prime Minister Isa Mustafa
Kosovar Prime Minister Isa Mustafa

Serbia’s President Tomislav Nikolic says European-Union facilitated talks in Brussels between the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia on January 24 have been "very open."

But Nikolic complained that officials from Pristina "don’t give a lot of space for negotiations" and that it was “not possible to negotiate in that way with Serbia. Not now, nor in the future."

Nikolic’s remarks came as the presidents and prime ministers of Kosovo and Serbia gathered in Brussels for talks aimed at resolving disagreements.

It is the highest level of direct talks in Brussels ever between officials from Pristina and Kosovo.

Belgrade continues to reject Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia.

Nikolic said the positions of both sides remained entrenched on the issue of Kosovo’s independence late on January 24 -- and that Kosovo’s leadership appeared to be using the dialogue for the purpose of giving Kosovo "the attribute of independence."

"Our obvious position is opposition to the stand of Kosovo officials who claim that they are representing an independent state, and our stand is that we can negotiate about Kosovo as a part of Serbia," Nikolic said. "So these are the positions in which we stand."

Earlier on January 24, ahead of the talks, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Isa Mustafa told RFE/RL that Serbia was seeking to destabilize Kosovo through "systematic action."

Tensions increased earlier this month after Belgrade sent a train toward an ethnic-Serbian-dominated enclave in northern Kosovo with the slogan "Kosovo is Serbia" emblazoned on the side.

The train did not enter Kosovo, but Kosovar President Hashem Thaci accused Belgrade of plotting to take control of the enclave using the "Crimea model," a reference to Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian region.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini's office has called for "increased commitment and engagement" by both sides in the talks.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after a war between Yugoslav forces and ethnic Albanian separatists.

Kosovo is committed to peace, security, and good neighborliness...but we are also firmly determined not to allow interference by anyone in Kosovo's internal affairs."
-- Kosovar Prime Minister Isa Mustafa

NATO air strikes on Serbia forced Belgrade to withdraw its troops in 1999 after the deaths of some 10,000 civilians in Kosovo. NATO has around 5,000 troops stationed in Kosovo to keep the peace.

The United States and most Western nations are among 114 countries that recognize Kosovo's independence, while Serbia and Russia are among those that do not.

Both Serbia and Kosovo are actively pursuing membership in the European Union, and the EU-facilitated talks aimed at normalizing ties began in 2011.

"We expect this meeting to be the beginning of the final phase of the dialogue brokered by EU and backed by the United States," Mustafa told RFE/RL.

"Kosovo is committed to peace, security, and good neighborliness...but we are also firmly determined not to allow interference by anyone in Kosovo's internal affairs," he said.

Mustafa said that "regardless of who leads the government in the future, we have no alternative to dialogue" as a way to solve problems.

He also said Kosovo would seek to resolve the fate of missing persons and "stop all political warrants against our citizens" -- a reference to former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who was detained on January 4 by French police acting on an arrest warrant issued by Serbia.

Serbia wants to try Haradinaj, who is also a former guerrilla commander, on charges related to the 1998-99 war in Kosovo.