Serbia vows to ease tension with Kosovo as talks resume
Serbia pledged Wednesday to stick to efforts to ease tension with Kosovo even if new unrest on the tense Balkan border derails its hopes of winning entry to the EU.
Arriving for a fresh round of Serbia-Kosovo talks key to Belgrade's bid for European Union membership, Serbia's negotiator Borko Stefanovic said: "We need to focus on resolving probems without any pressure, whether we get the candidacy or not."
"It's important but not the main reason we have those talks," he said.
"It'll continue regardless of candidacy," he said of the dialogue that began in March as the first direct encounter between the pair since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
The eighth round in the EU-brokered talks takes place just days before the EU's 27 leaders decide whether to grant Serbia its long-awaited wish for candidate status -- the first step in the road to full membership.
But new unrest on their flashpoint border, where northern Kosovo's majority ethnic Serbs refuse to accept border guards and customs officials sent by the ethnic Albanian government in Pristina, is threatening to derail the dialogue and scuttle Serbia's EU dreams.
"I expect more from the Serbian government and the local problem cannot be resolved only militarily by KFOR", the NATO-led peacekeeping force, said German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere.
The German official, who was in Brussels for talks, said he believed Serbia had "a strong influence" on the troublesome ethnic Serbs and should "use it increasingly to reach a peaceful evolution of the situation".
"And that is what I ask the Serbian government," he said. "The Serbian government wants to obtain candidate status. Currently each day it is moving further away from this."
After this year's arrest of longtime wanted war criminals Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, Belgrade appeared to be a shoo-in for candidacy but some EU members also demanded more progress in relations with Kosovo.
The aim of the meetings with EU facilitator Robert Cooper is to settle day-to-day problems caused by Kosovo's breakaway -- Pristina's lack of land records and civil registries, and the cutting of telecommunications and transport links.
At talks a week ago in Brussels, the two sides agreed to recognise each others' university diplomas.
It was hoped this week's round might dish up an accord to enable Kosovo to take a seat at regional Balkans bodies involved in issues from trade to migration to transport -- a status close to de facto recognition of Pristina.
But also on the table is the hot question of two crossings in northern Kosovo where more than 40 soldiers from the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force and scores of civilians have been hurt in a new violence over the last few days.
The KFOR peacekeepers have been attempting to dismantle roadblocks thrown up by northern Kosovo's Serbs, who like Belgrade refuse to recognise an independent Kosovo.
At the Brussels talks, the EU is seeking agreement to a system of "integrated border management", where crossings would be placed under the joint management of Serbia and Kosovo, with members of the European rule of law mission EULEX -- combining officials and police -- overseeing the posts.
Pristina negotiatior Edita Tahiri on the other hand arrived reiterating her exasperation with the slow pace of implementation of the few agreements achieved over the nine months.
"What I don't want to see is dialogue that produces only papers," she said. "We started in March and we still have only papers."
An EU diplomat admitted progress had been "slow" in enacting an agreement to allow freedom of movement across the border by using ID papers rather than passports and agreeing on vehicle plates and insurance.
© 2011 AFP