EU envoy tells Kosovo and Serbia to return to dialogue

  • World
  • Saturday, 21 Oct 2023

FILE PHOTO: Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (not pictured) welcomes EU Special Representative for Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajcak to the Western Balkans conference at the Chancellery in Vienna, Austria June 18, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File photo

PRISTINA (Reuters) -The European Union Special Envoy Miroslav Lajcak urged Serbia and Kosovo to return to dialogue on normalising ties to avoid a repeat of last month's violence in northern Kosovo.

Tensions between Belgrade and Pristina have run high since Sept. 24, when around 30 armed Serbs stormed the village of Banjska in Kosovo's predominantly Serb north and barricaded themselves into a Serbian Orthodox monastery.

Police recaptured the monastery after a shootout in which three attackers and a Kosovo police officer were killed.

"The attacks in Banjska have changed many things and they need to be properly investigated...At the same time the dialogue must continue," Lajcak said after meeting Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

"If there is not dialogue there might be a repetition of escalation."

Last month's gunbattle prompted new international concern over stability in Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority and declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a guerrilla uprising and a 1999 NATO intervention.

Lajcak visited the region with the United States Special Envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, and representatives of France, Germany and Italy.

On Saturday afternoon the delegation met Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

"There is no European future for Serbia and for Kosovo without normalisation of relations," Lajcak said after meeting Vucic. He said the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina will be on the agenda of EU foreign ministers meeting on Monday.

Some 50,000 Serbs who live in north Kosovo do not recognise Pristina's institutions and see Belgrade as their capital. They have often clashed with Kosovo police and international peacekeepers, but last month's violence was the worst in years.

Lajcak urged Pristina to start working on establishing an association of Serb municipalities to allow greater autonomy for Serb majority areas. Kurti has rejected the proposal, arguing that autonomy could lead to the secession of the Serb-majority area and its unification with Serbia.

Pristina authorities have accused Belgrade of arming and supporting the Serb fighters in Banjska, something Serbian authorities have denied.

Lajcak urged Belgrade to investigate the events and punish any perpetrators in its territory.

Serbia refuses to recognise independence of Kosovo and considers it still part of its territory.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina and Ivana Sekularac in Belgrade; Editing by Ros Russell)

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