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Kosovo's Thaci Sees 'Good Momentum' For Serbia Deal Despite Disputes

Hashim Thaci, the president of Kosovo, is scheduled to participate on a panel with Serbia's Aleksandar Vucic.
Hashim Thaci, the president of Kosovo, is scheduled to participate on a panel with Serbia's Aleksandar Vucic.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci says he sees "good momentum" in efforts to reach a deal this year to normalize relations with neighbor and rival Serbia despite their differences, according to an interview published on February 14 by the Associated Press.

Thaci is scheduled to participate in a Security in Southeast Europe panel on February 16 with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic as part of the Munich Security Conference in the German city.

Tensions remain high between the Balkan neighbors, two decades after their bloody war ended. Western states, including the United States, have urged the two sides to move to normalize relations.

Kosovo was a province of Serbia in 1999 when NATO launched air strikes to stop the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians by Serbian forces during a two-year war. To this date, landlocked Kosovo, with a population of 1.8 million people, is still guarded by NATO troops.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Although 116 countries recognize Kosovo, Serbia and Russia do not.

Thaci and Vucic have made efforts to normalize relations, but several difficult issues continue to divide the two sides.

Kosovo angered Serbia in December when its parliament voted to transform its lightly armed security force into a full-fledged army.

Vucic called on the UN to "curb" and "tame" Kosovo and also dismissed what he said was the "so-called sovereign right" of Kosovo to form its own military.

Vucic said he was "very much worried, very much concerned and even a bit afraid" about the implications of a Kosovar army.

The United States has expressed support for Kosovo's move to create a national army, while NATO said the move was "ill-timed." UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also expressed concerns.

Russia vehemently opposed the Kosovo move, with UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya saying expanding the army was a "blatant violation" of Security Council resolutions and called the creation of the army "illegal.

Kosovo has also imposed a 100 percent tariff on Serbian imports, saying the levy will stay until Serbia recognizes Kosovo's sovereignty and reaches a normalization agreement with its neighbor.

Belgrade responded by saying the tariff is hurting its businesses and that it will not participate in further dialogue until the measure is lifted.

Tensions could arise this weekend, as Kosovo traditionally marks its declaration of independent from Serbia on February 17 in the capital, Pristina.

With reporting by AP and European Western Balkans
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