Kosovo bars Serbian officials as tariff row deepens deadlock

Progress only possible with independence recognition, Pristina tells Belgrade

Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj: ‘If we want a solution, it exists – the recognition of Kosovo.’ Photograph: Daniel McLaughlin

Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj: ‘If we want a solution, it exists – the recognition of Kosovo.’ Photograph: Daniel McLaughlin

 

Kosovo barred all Belgrade officials from its territory on Thursday, as the country’s prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, said the only way to improve relations was for Serbia to finally recognise the sovereignty of its former province.

Belgrade rejects Kosovo’s 2008 independence declaration and objects to Pristina’s imposition of a 100 per cent tax on Serbian imports, which it claims is causing shortages of food and medicine in majority Serb areas of the country.

The tariff spat has paralysed EU-brokered talks to normalise their relations, and hopes for a breakthrough have been dimmed by angry verbal exchanges and Serbia’s alleged refusal to hand over a suspect in the 2018 murder of Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic.

“Due to Serbia’s hybrid threats towards Kosovo, its constant propaganda and fake news about our country and citizens, and recent attempts to fabricate a so-called humanitarian crisis in northern Kosovo . . . the foreign ministry will not allow any Belgrade official to visit Kosovo and all requests will be rejected as long as this behaviour continues,” said Jetlir Zyberaj, an adviser to Pristina’s foreign minister.

Serbian foreign minister Ivica Dacic called the ban “yet another slap in the face – not for Belgrade, but above all for the European Union and the international community, which shamefully stays silent about (Kosovo’s) violations of all civilised norms”.

Serb-run shops in northern Kosovo shut down for two days this week in protest at the tariffs, which were imposed last November.

Mr Zyberaj accused Serbia of “forcing them to close their businesses for the sake of Belgrade’s political goals” in Kosovo.

Belgrade officials and pro-government media have warned of a looming humanitarian crisis, but Pristina denies there are any shortages and the Nato-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo has said it sees no sign of supply problems.

Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic vowed this week to “do whatever we can to bring food, water and medicines to our people . . . even if I become a notorious European Robin Hood. that crazy Vucic who sends food and water from the forest.”

Mr Haradinaj responded on Twitter: “I urge you NOT to implement your well-known deceptive scenario to de-stabilise northern Kosovo. The fake ‘humanitarian crisis’ will never serve as a shield for your de-stabilisation aims . . . Kosovo will support and protect its own citizens in the northern Kosovo.”

In an interview with his country’s KosSev news outlet on Thursday, Mr Haradinaj said that “if we want a solution, it exists – the recognition of Kosovo”.

“Nobody is allowed to sell their goods by force. Not Serbia, nor anyone else. If we don’t establish political relations, we won’t have economic relations either.”

The Balkan neighbours are also at odds over the investigation into the murder in northern Kosovo of Mr Ivanovic, who was a critic of Mr Vucic.

Pristina issued an international arrest warrant this week for Milan Radoicic, an influential businessman and political ally of Mr Vucic in Kosovo, who is suspected of involvement in the killing.

Mr Radoicic is believed to be in Serbia, and both he and Mr Vucic strongly deny that he has any link to the assassination.