EU envoy in Kosovo to discuss implementing deal with Serbia

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The European Union envoy for the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue on Thursday visited Pristina as part of new efforts to implement a recent agreement on normalizing relations between the neighbors and former foes.

Miroslav Lajcak held talks with Kosovo's President Vjosa Osmani and Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

Last month in Brussels, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kurti gave their tacit approval to the EU plan to end months of political crisis and help improve ties.

The agreement stipulates that both countries would recognize each other's official documents and national symbols, and respect their independence, autonomy and territorial integrity, right of self-determination, protection of human rights and non-discrimination.

“This to become a legally binding document, we need to also agree on how to do so because we need to know what are the steps, what is the sequence of steps, what are the timelines,” Lajcak told reporters.

He said the meeting with Kurti “has met my expectations.”

Next week Lajcak will visit Belgrade for the same purpose.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Thursday that he would convene the next high-level meeting between Vucic and Kurti in Ohrid, North Macedonia, on March 18.

“The meeting will focus on finalizing the Implementation Annex of the EU Agreement on the path to normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia,” a statement from Borrell’s office said.

Lajcak was careful not to raise expectations for a signing ceremony in Ohrid saying they first need to complete the “finalization” of the agreement and then talk about “formalization.”

Both Serbia and Kosovo want to join the EU, which has told them that they first need to sort out their differences.

Kosovo is a majority ethnic Albanian former Serbian province which broke away in 2008. That came nine years after the end of a 1998-99 war, which erupted when separatist ethnic Albanians launched a rebellion against Serbia’s rule, and Belgrade responded with a brutal crackdown. About 13,000 people died, mostly ethnic Albanians.

In 1999 a NATO intervention forced Serbia to pull out of the territory and ended the war, but tensions over Kosovo’s status remain a source of instability in the Balkans.

Pristina's declaration of independence was recognized by many Western countries but opposed by Serbia, with the backing of Russia and China. EU-brokered talks between Belgrade and Pristina have made little headway in recent years.

___ Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.

Florent Bajrami And Llazar Semini, The Associated Press