After weeks of tense relations between Kosovo and Serbia, both parties will today sit down in Brussels to continue the EU-mediated dialogue process. Discussions will take place at the highest level, with presidents Hashim Thaci and Tomislav Nikolic joining prime ministers Isa Mustafa and Aleksandar Vucic in today’s meeting.
The continuation of the dialogue takes place amid increasing political tensions between Kosovo and Serbia at the start of 2017, with Serbia’s President Nikolic at one stage suggesting that troops could be sent into Kosovo if he considered that Serbs were under threat. Nikolic was speaking after a train emblazoned with “Kosovo is Serbia” in 21 languages was scheduled from Belgrade to Kosovo on Jan. 14, although it turned back before reaching the border. Serbia’s Prime Minister Vucic claimed that he ordered for the train to stop as Kosovar Albanians had laid mines on the tracks, something that has been categorically denied by Prishtina.
Following repeated calls from EU representatives and foreign diplomats to resolve the dispute through dialogue, the EU has now called both neighbors to the discussion table. The themes of discussion have not been officially made public, but it is clear that the high representative of EU foreign affairs and security policy, Federica Mogherini, intends to reduce the tensions that have escalated recently between Prishtina and Belgrade.
The EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia started in 2011 with a so-called “technical dialogue,” shifting to a political stage in 2013. On April 19, 2013, in what has been widely described as a “landmark” moment, an agreement was signed by both parties, prompting members of the European Parliament to nominate both prime ministers at the time for the Nobel Peace Prize. A number of subsequent agreements have since been signed aimed at implementing decisions.
However the implementation of agreements made in Brussels has been slow and key deadlines have been missed. The bridge over the River Ibar that divides the Serb-majority north of the city from the Albanian-majority south was due to be re-opened on Jan. 20, the same date that the implementation of an agreement on justice — that would see Serb-majority areas operating under a unitary justice system with the rest of Kosovo — was due. However neither occurred.
The revitalization of the bridge has become another problematic area to have raised tensions in recent months, after a 2-meter wall was erected on the north side of the bridge. Serb leaders claim that the wall is part of the agreements reached through the Brussels dialogue, while this is rejected by Prishtina.
Kosovo’s political leaders have described the wall’s construction as illegal and have vowed to knock it down — Assembly President Kadri Veseli said that this would happen on either Feb. 1 or Feb. 17. Local Serbs leaders in North Mitrovica, backed by Belgrade, have warned Kosovo authorities not to take unilateral steps or to use special police forces in the north of Kosovo.
A further issue that has increased tensions at the beginning of 2017 is the detention of former prime minister of Kosovo and leader of opposition party AAK, Ramush Haradinaj, in France on a Belgrade-issued Interpol arrest warrant. Haradinaj, who was arrested while attempting to enter France on Jan. 4, is currently on bail while French authorities consider Serbia’s extradition request. Belgrade is reported to have provided fresh evidence to France in relation to allegations of war crimes against Haradinaj; he was acquitted of war crimes charges in 2012 by the U.N.-backed International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague.
Developments in recent weeks have caused Kosovo’s opposition parties to increase their calls to halt the dialogue with Serbia until Serbia’s leaders changes its approach towards Kosovo. Even some deputies in the ruling coalition have suggested that it should be “redesigned,” in light of recent events.
Vetevendosje, AAK and NISMA have specifically demanded that Kosovo no longer engages in the dialogue until Serbia abolishes its outstanding Interpol warrants for former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). In a Facebook post, Haradinaj yesterday called Mustafa and Thaci “puppets” for their decision to continue the dialogue under current circumstances.
At 13:00 today, the three opposition parties — who have been attempting to gather signatures of deputies in order to call an extraordinary Assembly session to discuss today’s scheduled meeting in Brussels — will hold a joint press conference in an effort to show their unity against the continuation of further dialogue with Serbia.K
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.