Serbia wants to normalise ties with Kosovo but will not sign any agreement

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic speaks to the media, in Ohrid, North Macedonia March 18, 2023.REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia wants normal relations with Kosovo but still won't sign any agreement with it, President Aleksandar Vucic said on Sunday, a day after he verbally agreed to implement a Western-backed plan for the normalisation of ties.

Serbia wants to join the European Union, and a condition of membership is that it normalise relations with ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008 but which Belgrade still considers a Serbian province.

Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti agreed to implement normalisation steps at a meeting with EU officials in a North Macedonian lake resort on Saturday, although no document was signed and the EU said it had wanted to go further.

"Serbia wants to have normal relations with Kosovo. We want to travel, we want to do business, you cannot live isolated behind 100 metres walls," Vucic told reporters on Sunday.

"I didn't want to sign the agreement on the implementing annex last night nor the EU-backed agreement (in Brussels last month)," Vucic told reporters. "I don't want to sign any international legally binding documents with Kosovo because Serbia does not recognise its independence."

Late on Saturday evening Kurti said that the agreement represented "de facto recognition".

Under their verbal agreement, Kosovo committed to giving greater autonomy to Serb majority areas, while Serbia agreed not to block Kosovo's membership in international organisations. The EU pledged to organise a donor conference for both countries, with disbursement of financial aid dependent on steps to improve ties.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said on Saturday after the 12-hour meeting that the agreement reached had fallen short of a "more ambitious and detailed" EU proposal that the parties were unable to agree on.

He said Kosovo had lacked flexibility on the substance of the proposals, while Serbia had refused to sign the document although Belgrade was "fully ready to implement" it.

(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Peter Graff)

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