Kosovo and Serbia agree to joint controls at border
Kosovo and Serbia have agreed to control crossing points on their disputed border jointly and to send liaison officers to each other’s capitals, signalling a potential breakthrough in co-operation between the two states as they try to accelerate their bids for EU membership.
The deal came following several hours of EU-brokered talks between Serb prime minister Ivica Dacic and Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci, and less than a week after Belgrade was outraged by a UN court’s acquittal of a former Kosovo rebel leader of war crimes against Serbs.
Serb protesters burned EU and Kosovo flags after the acquittal of Ramush Haradinaj and two other ex-guerrillas, a ruling Serb president Tomislav Nikolic said would “annul efforts made so far towards normalising relations between Belgrade and Pristina and increase Euro-scepticism among the Serbian people.”
Several thousand people marched through Belgrade on Tuesday to decry the UN court’s decisions to free the Kosovars and two Croat generals earlier convicted of war crimes.
But the agreement clinched later the same evening underlines how Kosovo and Serb leaders accept that they must compromise and be pragmatic, if they are to convince Brussels that their deep-rooted dispute is not an insurmountable obstacle to EU accession.
Belgrade hopes to receive an official date to start accession talks at next week’s European Council. If a date is given, the talks could begin during Ireland’s presidency of the EU in the first half of next year. If no date is given next week, it may well be handed down during Ireland’s presidency.
Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief who mediated the talks, said the two prime ministers had agreed that by the end of December four crossing points on the disputed Kosovo-Serbia frontier would be run jointly by staff from both countries.
They also agreed to appoint liaison officers to each other’s capitals, potentially opening a stronger line of communication between Belgrade and Pristina. Serbia does not recognise Kosovo as an independent state, and its leaders have vowed to abandon their EU membership bid rather than acknowledge the sovereignty of its former province.
Mr Dacic noted that co-operation in running the border in no way suggested Serb acceptance of Kosovo’s independence, which has been recognised by 98 states, including the US and most EU countries. Russia, China, India and Spain are among those that oppose it.
No national flags will be shown at the border, Mr Dacic said, stressing that Serbia would suspend co-operation “if the agreed regime is violated in the field”.
Mr Thaci also pledged to establish a special multi-ethnic police unit to monitor religious and cultural heritage sites in Kosovo, which is home to several important Serb Orthodox churches and monasteries and is seen by many Serbs as the historic “cradle” of their civilisation.
Serbs in northern Kosovo reacted with scepticism to the deal, and their leaders are expected to meet Mr Dacic in Belgrade today to seek assurances over how the crossings will operate. Border clashes between Serb protesters, police and Nato peacekeepers regularly turn violent.
Also on Tuesday night, Serb ambassador to Nato, Branislav Milinkovic (52), jumped to his death at a car park at Brussels airport. Officials and police said they had no idea what made the former author and activist take his own life.