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Serbia-Kosovo talks 'back on track' after video meet: EU

2 min 18Approximate reading time

The EU said Sunday that long-stalled talks between Serbia and Kosovo were "back on track" after a video meeting between the two leaders.

Kosovo's Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic held a virtual meeting chaired by senior EU officials as they seek a solution to one of Europe's most intractable territorial disputes.

Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence since the province broke away in the bloody 1998-99 war that was ended only by a NATO bombing campaign against Serb troops.

Sunday's round follows another virtual meeting held on Friday, attended by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as Europe tries to re-energise a process that has stalled for nearly two years.

The EU's special representative for the dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, thanked Vucic and Hoti for their "constructive engagement".

"I'm glad to say that after the Paris summit and today's meeting, the EU-facilitated dialogue on comprehensive normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo is back on track after 20 months," Lajcak said in a video statement from Brussels after the talks.

Hoti told reporters in Pristina that he believed the dialogue could resolve the outstanding problems and that Kosovo expected "mutual recognition" with Belgrade.

"We are ready to take a seat at the table of dialogue to defend the statehood of Kosovo and to demand the normalisation of relations and the reciprocal recognition between the two countries," Hoti said.

Attention now turns to a planned meeting in person between Vucic and Hoti in Brussels on Thursday.

"As a result of today's meeting we agreed on the main elements of the process and we also agreed on the agenda of our next meeting," Lajcak said.

No details of the process or agenda were made available immediately.

At the start of Sunday's meeting, EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the talks with Lajcak, called on the two sides to cooperate to find a way forward, saying the lack of a solution was restricting economic progress and risking instability.

"These talks will require political courage from both sides, will require commitment and engagement in the spirit of compromise and pragmatism," he said.

"It has never been easy to find solutions to problems that have been so lasting and so painful but this is why we are here today -- to try again."

- 'Beginning of the story' -

EU efforts to get the two sides to talk productively have dragged on for nearly a decade with little progress, with the most recent effort breaking down in late 2018.

Ahead of the meeting, a senior Brussels official warned that significant challenges lay ahead, saying Sunday's talks marked "the beginning of the story".

"We've been talking for 10 years now without much success -- let's hope that now is the good time to make progress," the senior official said.

Both Kosovo and Serbia have been facing mounting pressure from the West to resolve the impasse which is seen as crucial to either side joining the EU.

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

Thaci's indictment led to the postponement of a White House summit between Serbia and Kosovo that was due to be held at the end of June.

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

One key question is diplomatic recognition for Kosovo -- five of the EU's 27 countries do not acknowledge its independence.

EU officials say that once Belgrade and Pristina reach a comprehensive accord on their disputes, holdouts -- which notably include Spain -- will have no reason not to recognise Kosovo.

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