Kosovo’s new Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic will hold talks in Brussels on Sunday in a bid to ease longstanding tensions, an EU spokesman said Monday, reviving negotiations frozen since 2018.
The talks will follow a video summit for the Balkan rivals hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday.
“These are complementary events,” said Peter Stano, an EU spokesman.
Kosovo and Serbia have faced mounting pressure from the West to reboot negotiations after a series of diplomatic tit-for-tats effectively suspended the peace effort.
The new push comes after Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci was charged last month with war crimes by prosecutors in The Hague over the secessionist conflict in the late 1990s that killed 13,000 people.
The indictment at the EU-backed tribunal led to the postponement of a White House summit between Serbia and Kosovo due to be held at the end of June after Thaci canceled his trip.
European officials had bristled at the US initiative, having spent years trying to resolve one of the continent’s most intractable territorial disputes.
Serbia has refused to recognize the independence Kosovo declared after the province broke away in the bloody 1998-99 war that ended only by a NATO bombing campaign against Serb troops.
More than 13,000 people died in the war, mostly Kosovo Albanians, who form a majority in the former province.
Hoti’s office later said the Kosovo premier would meet Macron in Paris on Tuesday ahead of Friday’s virtual summit. This meeting “shows the care and commitment of President Macron to Kosovo and its Euro-Atlantic future,” Hoti’s office said in a statement.
Tense relations between the nations have persisted, with Kosovo announcing a ban on all imports from Serbia unless they are certified as “for the Republic of Kosovo” — just weeks after abolishing a 100-percent tariff on Serbian goods.
The legacy of war has proved divisive at home as well, as the desire for reconciliation or at least normalized relations clashes with national pride and anger over the fighting’s painful toll.
Several Serbian military and police officials were convicted by international tribunals of war crimes committed during the conflict, which saw hundreds of thousands of civilians forced from their homes.
Some Kosovo rebels were also accused of kidnapping and other crimes, including some who would secure senior political posts after the war.
Thaci was the political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), and prosecutors in The Hague suspect him of being behind nearly 100 murders as well as numerous cases of persecution and torture.
He has denied the charges, accusing the international tribunal of “rewriting history,” and has vowed to resign if the charges are upheld.
Kosovo war veterans will take to the streets to protest the ten-count indictment filed by the Hague-based Kosovo Specialist Chambers against President Hashim Thaci and nine other KLA ex-guerrillas.
— Balkan Insight (@BalkanInsight) July 2, 2020
Tensions with Serbia flared anew when Vucic called the indictment “good news.”
Yet Vucic, whose party claimed a big win in parliamentary elections last month, has been under Western pressure to make progress on talks with Pristina.
Miroslav Lajcak, the EU’s special envoy on the issue, said after a meeting with Vucic last month that he was hoping to restart the detente talks in July.
Thaci, however, had lent his support to the US initiative, after expressing dissatisfaction with the long-running EU-led talks to bring the Balkan neighbors to an accord.
Resolving the lingering conflict is a requisite for either side to make progress on their EU accession dreams.