BELGRADE, Serbia, Aug. 18 (UPI) — Serbia and Kosovo will resume talks next month in Brussels to settle their border crisis, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic said.
Djelic said at a Tuesday news conference in Belgrade the fresh round of the 6-month-old talks aimed at defusing the cross-border tension with Kosovo will be Sept. 2 after stalling in July due to an outbreak of violence at two customs posts.
After asserting that “some want to undermine Serbia’s position in Europe and worldwide” and urging the flare-up with Kosovo be “viewed in that context,” Djelic said Serbia is genuinely seeking a solution to tensions.
While Belgrade is willing to negotiate on Pristina’s move to introduce its own customs stamps — a sign of its disputed independent status from Serbia — it wouldn’t back down on its opposition to Kosovar customs officials manning the border gates at Bernjak and Jarinje in northern Kosovo, Djelic warned.
Pristina sparked a crisis in July when, in an attempt to assert control over ethnic Serb-dominated northern part the country, it sent a contingent of special police to take control of the two custom posts with Serbia. Serb protesters responded by burning one of the posts and an ethnic Albanian Kosovar policeman was killed.
“We will do everything in our power to reach a compromise over the issue of customs stamps but under no condition will we cross the red lines of our state policy,” the Tanjug News Agency reported Djelic as saying.
The NATO Kosovo Force, or KFOR, took control of the disputed customs posts after the violence but is being impeded by roadblocks maintained by ethnic Serbs.
Pristina, meanwhile, remains adamant that it control the border with Serbia and the estimated $50 million in annual duties it generates, the International Crisis Group reported.
Calling the July 25 events “rather dramatic,” the deputy Serbian leader said they “illustrate that unilateral decisions have no effect and cannot produce a solution.”
The scheduled resumption of talks came a week after German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle visited Pristina and urged Kosovo and Serbia to settle the border crisis, asserting that all of Europe had an interest in a peaceful solution.
“What’s at stake here is peace in Europe,” he told Deutsche Welle after meeting with
Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci. “The time for wars and conflicts along ethnic lines has to be over. There’s no place for that in 21st-century Europe.
“This is a European issue — the future of Europe will be decided here and peace in Europe has to be protected here as well.”
Westerwelle was the first high-level European official to visit the region after the July 25 clashes and reaffirmed that EU members wanted the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina to continue, former EU Kosovo envoy Wolfgang Ischinger told the broadcaster.
“It is important that leading members of the EU are in constant contact with both Pristina and Belgrade,” he said. “So Westerwelle’s trip to Kosovo is very important in that it sends a signal to both sides to continue with the dialogue.”
Xavier de Marnhac, head of the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, told Westerwelle that EULEX is “working together with KFOR to reduce tensions and (find) the way forward” while also increasing police patrols and launching investigations into the burning of the gate and “the murder of a Kosovo police officer.”