US Delegation Heads to Balkans Following Rising Tensions

7 Jan

US Delegation Heads to Balkans Following Rising Tensions

A senior State Department official is leading a U.S. delegation to three Western Balkan nations in the coming days following weeks of ethnic tensions in the region.

Counselor of the United States Department of State Derek Chollet and the U.S. delegation will be traveling to Serbia, Kosovo and North Macedonia.

The border between Kosovo and Serbia is open again after roadblocks by protesting Serbs led authorities to close border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia, as authorities worried the tensions could turn violent.

Chollet told VOA Serbian on Thursday that his visit next week comes at a key moment.

“The last few weeks has, unfortunately, seen a rise in tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. In the last 48 hours we’ve seen barricades come down, we’ve seen the border crossings reopened between Kosovo and Serbia. That’s good news,” he said.

Since 2011, Serbia and Kosovo have been part of an EU-facilitated dialogue whose purpose is the normalization of relations. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 – which was never recognized by the Serbian authorities.

The European Union facilitated dialogue between the two sides last year, but the talks frequently ended up deadlocked.

Chollet said he wants to focus on talking about the future of Kosovo and Serbia as well as the normalization proposal laid about by the EU.

In the recent months, American and European officials were engaged in speeding up the dialogue regarding the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo. The European Union has presented a proposal, but Chollet declined to provide details.

“I think sometimes in any negotiation, some of those details are best left behind closed doors until they’re ready. But we think the EU has laid out a viable path. Again, it’s going to be hard, and it’s going to require a lot of work, tough decisions, and courage by leaders to put aside differences and to do what’s in the best interests of their country. We want to help them achieve that goal,” Chollet said.

He also said that the U.S. continues to prioritize the 2013 Brussels Agreement that calls for forming the association of Serbian municipalities.

“We’ve been very clear about this. We believe that this is a commitment that’s been made and should be set up. But there are many other issues, both sides have obligations here we’d like to see them move forward,” said Chollet.

The Association of Serbian municipalities is a planned association of municipalities with a Serb majority population in Kosovo. It should have an overview of the areas of economic development, education, health, urban and rural planning.

Kosovo authorities are opposed to its creation citing it is unconstitutional and pushed by the Serbian government from Belgrade.

Yet, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti praised the European proposal for an agreement between the two countries, saying it includes universal principles, such “as territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence, equality, rule of law, democracy, [and] self-determination” that he said would make an agreement sustainable.

But he told VOA Albanian Service that Belgrade has not signaled that it is ready to accept it.

“To mask the rejection of this proposal they resigned from the institutions in Kosovo north of the Ibar (river) and with these barricades on one side they wanted to territorialize the issue … and on the other hand they wanted to stifle the political pluralism of the Serbian community.”

The prime minister said the agreement on the Association of Serbian Municipalities has not passed the test of Kosovo’s Constitutional Court.

SJ

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