The European Union says the presidents of Serbia and Kosovo have agreed the final steps for the implementation of a key agreement to integrate the courts in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo into the country’s judicial system
The office of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini made the announcement on August 31 after she hosted a meeting with Serbia’s Aleksandar Vucic and Hashim Thaci of Kosovo in Brussels as part of an effort to move forward dialogue between the two neighbors and normalize ties.
A statement said that both presidents confirmed that the February 2015 Justice Agreement will be "fully implemented" on October 17.
"On that day, judges, prosecutors, and judicial staff will be integrated into the Kosovo judiciary,” she said. “The integration of the judicial personnel will allow for justice to be delivered across Kosovo and, in particular, in [the northern] Mitrovica region,” the statement added.
Vucic and Thaci "followed up on their commitment" from their last meeting in July where they agreed to start working on a "new phase of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina for normalization of relations and reconciliation," it also said.
After the July 3 talks in Brussels, Vucic said it was necessary to talk "more seriously and bravely about future relations."
Thaci told RFE/RL that Kosovo and Serbia were entering a "new phase of dialogue" as they look to sign a "comprehensive, political agreement" to benefit both countries on the path to Euro-Atlantic integration.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and is recognized by 115 countries but not by Belgrade.
Currently there are around 120,000 Serbs in Kosovo and most of them, mainly in the north, oppose the Pristina authorities.
Kosovar Albanians, who are the ethnic majority in the small Balkan nation, oppose greater autonomy for Serb-dominated municipalities, saying that this would give Belgrade more influence.
Relations have also been strained since June 11 elections in Kosovo, a country of 1.8 million people, 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanian.
Two potential prime ministers, Ramush Haradinaj and Albin Kurti, have said in the past that they don't support the current format of the dialogue.
But Thaci told RFE/RL that he foresees a full normalization of relations between Pristina and Belgrade and reconciliation of their people, including the affirmation of the rights of Kosovo Serbs.
"We have to be sincere; we have many open questions between Kosovo and Serbia to discuss and normalize," Thaci said, noting that he could not predict how long the final stage of talks would last but saying he didn’t think it would be a matter of years.