The European Union on Thursday summoned the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo for emergency talks to try to bring an end to a series of violent clashes near their border that is fueling fears of a return to open conflict.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that he would hold “urgent meetings” with Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Brussels. It was unclear whether the two would meet face-to-face, or only hold separate talks with Borrell.
“We need immediate de-escalation and new elections in the north with participation of Kosovo Serbs. This is paramount for the region and (the) EU,” Borrell tweeted ahead of the talks. The 27-nation bloc has for years been leading talks aimed at reconciling the two foes, but with little success.
Serbia and its former province Kosovo have been at odds for decades. Their 1998-99 conflict left more than 10,000 people dead, mostly Kosovo Albanians. Belgrade has refused to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence.
Tensions flared anew last month after Kosovo police seized local municipality buildings in northern Kosovo, where Serbs represent a majority, to install ethnic Albanian mayors who were elected in a local election that Serbs overwhelmingly boycotted.
Serbia has put its troops on the border on the highest state of alert amid a series of recent clashes between Kosovo Serbs on one side and Kosovo police and NATO-led peacekeepers on the other. In recent weeks, NATO has sent in reinforcements.
The tensions persisted last week with three stun grenades exploding near Kosovo police stations in the north of the country, while Kosovo Serbs staged protests in front of municipality buildings.
Borrell had been trying for several days get Kurti and Vucic to come to Brussels but they had refused until now.
Still, Vucic said that he won’t be talking to Kurti in Brussels. “I have nothing to talk to him about,” he told the state RTS broadcaster. Vucic has said there can be no negotiations until Serbs who have been arrested by Kosovo police for attacks on Kosovo police and NATO-led peacekeepers are released.
In a tweet on Wednesday, Kurti said he “will insist on the urgent unconditional release of the 3 policemen held hostage by Serbia, de-escalation and normalization of relations.”
Borrell's spokeswoman, Nabila Massrali, refused to be drawn on how the talks would play out, saying only that the meetings are “an opportunity offered to both leaders to show readiness to be constructive and de-escalate.”
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg vowed that its peacekeepers “will continue to act impartially. We have increased our presence and will continue to take all necessary measures to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo.”
Just four months ago, the EU’s Borrell had made things seem so promising. He exited talks with Vucic and Kurti to announce that Serbia and Kosovo had given their tacit approval to a EU-sponsored plan to end months of political crises and help improve their ties longer-term.
But the “deal” unraveled almost immediately as both leaders appeared to renege on commitments that Borrell suggested they had made.