US Delegation Heads to Balkans Following Rising Tensions

A top State Department official will lead a US delegation to three Western Balkan countries after weeks of ethnic tensions in the region.

US State Department adviser Derek Chollett and the US delegation will travel to Serbia, Kosovo and North Macedonia.

The Kosovo-Serbia border has reopened after protesting Serbs blocked roads and ordered the closure of border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia, as authorities fear tensions could turn violent.

Chollett told the Voice on Thursday that his visit next week will come at an important time.

“Unfortunately, in the last few weeks, tensions between Kosovo and Serbia have increased. In the last 48 hours, we’ve seen the barricades come down, we’ve seen the Kosovo-Serbia border crossings reopened. That’s good news,” he said.

Since 2011, Serbia and Kosovo have engaged in an EU-facilitated dialogue aimed at normalizing relations. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, which was never recognized by the Serbian authorities.

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The European Union has facilitated dialogue between the two sides over the past year, but talks have often stalled.

Chollet said he wanted to focus on talks about the future of Kosovo and Serbia, as well as the EU’s normalization proposal.

In recent months, American and European officials have been involved in accelerating dialogue on the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo. The European Union has submitted a proposal, but Chollet declined to elaborate.

“I think sometimes in any negotiation some of these details are best left behind closed doors until they are ready. But we think the EU has set a viable path. Again, it will be difficult and it will take a lot of work, hard decisions and the courage of leaders to put aside their differences and do what is in the best interest of their country. We want to help them achieve that goal,” Chollet said.

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He also said that the US still considers the 2013 Brussels agreement as a priority, which calls for the creation of an association of Serbian municipalities.

“We are very clear on this issue. We believe that this is a commitment that has been made and has to be implemented. But there are many other issues, both sides have responsibilities here, we would like to see them move forward,” Cholet said.

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

Kosovo authorities oppose its creation, saying it is unconstitutional and that the Serbian government directed it from Belgrade.

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However, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti welcomed 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’, which he believes will make the agreement sustainable.

However, he told the Albanian Service in a conversation with the Voice that Belgrade has not signaled that it is ready to accept it.

“To mask the rejection of this proposal, they withdrew from the institutions in Kosovo north of the Ibara (river) and with these barricades, on the one hand, 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 that the agreement on the Association of Municipalities of Serbia has not passed the test of the Constitutional Court of Kosovo.


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