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U.S. Voices Concern Over Stalled Serbia-Kosovo Talks

  • The EU-facilitated talks between Serbia and Kosovo ended without a breakthrough, with Serbia not recognizing Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence.
  • U.S. State Department emphasizes the EU-facilitated dialogue as the only way forward, urging both nations to fulfill their obligations.
  • Tensions remain high with recent violent incidents and disagreements over the establishment of an association of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo.
Prisitna Kosovo

The United States has expressed disappointment at the lack of progress in the latest round of EU-facilitated talks between Balkan neighbors Serbia and Kosovo aimed at normalizing relations.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell signaled frustration at Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti after the talks in Brussels on September 14, which also involved Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

The negotiations are part of a decade-long U.S. and EU diplomatic push to repair some of the wounds from bloody internecine wars in the 1990s, after the breakup of Yugoslavia.

"We are disappointed that progress was not made today," a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in a statement to RFE/RL's Balkan Service. "As we’ve repeatedly said, the EU-facilitated Dialogue is the only path forward for Kosovo and Serbia."

Serbia refuses to recognize its former province's 2008 declaration of independence, and tensions between ethnic Serbs and Kosovar institutions spilled over into violence against NATO peacekeepers in May after locals boycotted local elections in four mostly Serb municipalities in northern Kosovo. Related: Gas Markets Stabilize As Freeport LNG Roars Back To Full Power

Belgrade also continues to unilaterally support ethnic Serbs through parallel institutions and ethnic-based political parties, which Pristina regards as illegal meddling.

Vucic and Kurti orally agreed to advance the normalization process at mediated talks in February, although specific follow-up steps have failed to materialize.

"We expect both countries to take seriously their obligations under the agreement on the path to normalization they reached earlier this year," the State Department said. "Time is running out."

It demanded progress including the establishment of an association of Serb-majority municipalities, as Pristina pledged a decade ago but has avoided laying the legal groundwork for.

The State Department said it was "united" in support of the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue with the informal decision-making group, known as the Quint, that includes Britain, France, Germany, and Italy.

"We will be consulting internally and with our European partners on next steps," it said.

Borrell, who mediated the September 14 negotiations and has said he sees resolving the long-running dispute between Belgrade and Pristina as essential to their efforts to join the European Union, said that Kurti rejected Brussels' compromise proposal.

Kosovo under Kurti has insisted that Serbia first recognize its independence before relations can be normalized.

"Kurti was not ready to take a step forward," Borrell said, adding that the Kosovar leader "insisted instead on formalizing de facto recognition as the first step."

Vucic, who accepted the compromise offer presented by the EU, said the talks were "unsuccessful," blaming Kurti for the lack of progress.

Kurti said there was "full readiness" from Kosovo to work out an agreement but accused Vucic of "sabotaging" the talks.

Kurti also claimed the European Union had sided with Belgrade, saying Brussels "only adopted Serbia's conditionality" of establishing an association of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo, which was "unacceptable" to Pristina.

Western patience with Kurti appeared to wear thin in May and June after Pristina ignored outside warnings and tried to forcibly install four mayors in mostly Serbian northern municipalities following boycotted by-elections to fill posts vacated by protesting Serbs.

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The resulting tensions erupted into violence that injured dozens of NATO KFOR peacekeepers and some ethnic Serb protesters.

Weeks later, Serbian authorities detained three Kosovar police officers near their mutual border under unclear circumstances and held them for days.

Relations between Serbia and Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians are a majority, have been on edge for decades.

Kosovo's 1998-99 war of independence from Serbia left more than 10,000 people dead -- most of them ethnic Albanians. More than 1,600 people are still considered missing.

By RFE/RL

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