Pristina sticks to its line on northern Kosovo as the EU attempts to get dialogue back on track.
Kosovo Serbs sit on the road blockade in the village of Zupce near Mitrovica on July 28th. [Reuters]
The EU’s mediator, Robert Cooper, met with officials in Belgrade and Pristina this week in an effort to defuse the crisis in northern Kosovo and get bilateral dialogue back on track. So far, though, there is no evidence that his efforts have borne fruit.
No official statements were released to the press after two hours of talks Tuesday (August 2nd) between Cooper and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci. A local daily, Koha Ditore, said the mediator had “failed to convince authorities to get involved in a process that would lead to a solution to the problem of control at the customs gates” in the north.
Thaci rejected any possibility of a return to the situation as it was before July 25th, vowing there would be “no step back”, the paper reported.
In earlier comments to SETimes, Interior Minister Bajram Rexhepi said northern Kosovo is off the table. All Cooper can do, he said, is to try to accelerate the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue with the aim of reaching a deal on trade reciprocity, within the framework of CEFTA.
“There will be nothing else except for what has been defined in the agenda of talks, absolutely not. The northern issue will not be included in the talks; what has been defined before will be discussed. All they [Cooper and the EU] can do is to accelerate the process, so that we can go to Brussels sooner,” Rexhepi said.
Cooper was in Belgrade on Monday, but the content of his discussions with officials there has not been disclosed.
Maja Kociancic, spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, talked to SETimes about the envoy’s visit to the region.
“An intensive effort is under way to find the way out of the stalemate. It’s critical to return to the dialogue and resolve the underlying issues without delay,” she said. She stressed, however, that Cooper is a facilitator, not a negotiator.
Meanwhile, Serbian representatives who arrived in the border area earlier in the week have held informal discussions with KFOR, though without reaching any concrete result. The head of the Serbian team, Borko Stefanovic, told SETimes that a “constructive exchange of information” took place.
“We can find a solution that will preserve the interests of people living in northern Kosovo and Metohija, while taking into account the current reality,” Stefanovic said. Pristina, he added, must realise that it cannot integrate Kosovo Serbs in this manner and instead must offer them something.
A strengthened NATO presence in the north is helping to stabilise the situation and provide security, he said.
Serbian Minister for Kosovo Goran Bogdanovic said representatives of the Serbian municipalities are aware of the dangers and are ready for dialogue.
“We do not want to raise tensions but to resolve the problem,” he told SETimes. “People are not happy that they are at barricades, but Pristina’s behaviour has further shaken their confidence.”
Tensions on the ground remain high, with local media reporting that Serbian flags were burned by ethnic Albanians, who have also mounted a boycott of Serbian goods. Local Serbs, meanwhile, have erected a 7-metre-high cross near the highway connecting Mitrovica and Rudare, and continue to man roadblocks.