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Serbia, Kosovo renew dialogue with virtual summit

1 min 47Approximate reading time

Serbia and Kosovo will on Friday hold their first talks in 18 months on resolving one of Europe's most intractable territorial disputes.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic will hold a video summit that will also be joined by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

These discussions will be followed by more talks on Sunday between Hoti and Vucic at EU headquarters in Brussels.

Serbia has refused to recognise the independence Kosovo declared after the province broke away in the bloody 1998-99 war that was ended only by a NATO bombing campaign against Serb troops.

But both Kosovo and Serbia have been facing mounting pressure from the West to reboot negotiations, where resolving the impasse is seen as crucial for Belgrade's bid to join the EU.

Also online for the talks Friday will be EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell and Miroslav Lajcak, the EU's special envoy for dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.

The video conference is due to get underway at 0830 GMT.

The new push comes after Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci was charged last month with war crimes by prosecutors in The Hague.

- EU seeks to regain initiative -

More than 13,000 people died in the war, mostly Kosovo Albanians, who form a majority in the former province.

Kosovo is now recognised by more than 100 other states but the EU is not unified on the issue with 22 out of the 27 bloc members recognising its independence.

A French presidential source, who asked not to be named, said that territorial exchanges were not part of the talks but the eventual aim was for Serbia to recognise Kosovo.

Vucic, who is facing a major crisis at home after protests over a new coronavirus lockdown in Serbia, warned ahead of the talks that he did not expect a smooth ride.

"No one is going to cuddle us or give us a present. On the contrary, we will be pressured to give in. It is not going to be easy," he said.

A summit held in Berlin in April 2019 had already failed to restart the talks. But the EU appears newly determined to get the process on track again.

The indictment of Thaci at the tribunal led to the postponement of a White House summit between Serbia and Kosovo due to be held at the end of June.

European officials had bristled at the US initiative and the new talks are seen as a chance for the bloc to show it still is capable of resolving the conflict.

During the war, Thaci was the political leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), but prosecutors in The Hague suspect him of being behind nearly 100 murders, as well as numerous cases of persecution and torture.

Thaci, who has denied the charges, has said he would be interviewed next week in The Hague by prosecutors.

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