Questions remain over deal between Balkan states

Serb officials say they won a major victory in the EU-brokered talks by not recognising Kosovo’s independence – and insist they will never do so

Protesters shouting slogans against the Kosovo accord in Belgrade yesterday. Photograph: Djordje Kojadinovic/Reuters

Protesters shouting slogans against the Kosovo accord in Belgrade yesterday. Photograph: Djordje Kojadinovic/Reuters

Tue, Apr 23, 2013, 06:00


The EU calls a hard-won pact between Kosovo and Serbia a historic turning point in their relations, and leaders of both Balkan countries insist it is the best deal they could have got. But major questions remain about what the agreement actually entails and how it will be implemented.

The deal reached last Friday formalises Belgrade’s acceptance of the Pristina government’s sovereignty over the whole of Kosovo, in return for broad autonomy for the 50,000 or so Serbs who dominate the northern part of the state, which declared independence from Belgrade in 2008.

As a reward for finally coming to terms, the European Commission recommended yesterday that negotiations should start for Serbia’s accession to the EU and for the signing of an association agreement that would bring Kosovo closer to the bloc.


Denounced
But the deal has already been denounced by influential Serbs in Belgrade and Kosovo.

“This appears to mark the pure surrender . . . of our most important territory in spiritual and historical terms,” said Patriarch Irinej, the head of the Serb Orthodox Church.

Criticising the pact’s “indirect and silent but still de-facto recognition” of Kosovo’s independence, Patriarch Irinej urged Kosovo’s Serbs “not to recognise any forced and unjust orders but to consider Kosovo, always and forever, as their homeland”.

Urging the Serb parliament and president Tomislav Nikolic to quash the deal, he added: “The price of eventual entry to the EU will be formal recognition by Serbia of an ‘independent Kosovo’.”

Mr Nikolic has backed the deal, however, saying: “Unfortunately, so many years after our soldiers left . . . this was the only possible solution that would guarantee peaceful life for our people.”


Contrasting views
Serb officials say they won a major victory in the EU-brokered talks by not recognising Kosovo’s independence, and insist they will never do so.

By contrast, Kosovo’s foreign minister, Enver Hoxhaj, wrote on Twitter on Friday: “The agreement reached . . . between Kosovo and Serbia is recognition of Kosovo independence by Serbia.”

Thousands of protesters marched yesterday through Belgrade and northern Kosovo’s main town, Mitrovica, denouncing Serb leaders as “traitors” and demanding a referendum on the pact.

Serbs in northern Kosovo refuse to have anything to do with Pristina, and government attempts to exert authority in the region have resulted in fatal clashes.

Friday’s deal is believed to give Serbs in northern Kosovo the right to run the local police and judicial services – a key Serb demand – but it is not clear if another of their main requests has been fulfilled: that the Kosovo army be barred from entering Serb areas of northern Kosovo.

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