Tensions spiked with Serbia following 14 Jan reopening of railway between Belgrade and northern Mitrovica town in ethnic Serb part of Kosovo, closed since 1999, with Serbian train painted with slogan “Kosovo is Serbia” in 21 languages. Serbia stopped train before border, claiming Kosovo was planning to attack it, after Kosovo ordered its authorities to block it, saying it was provocative. Serbian PM Vucic accused Kosovo of trying to provoke “large-scale conflict”, while President Nikolic 15 Jan warned sides had been on “brink of war”, said Serbia ready to send troops to defend Serbs in Kosovo if necessary. Kosovo President Thaci 16 Jan said Belgrade plotting to annex northern Kosovo. Tensions also fuelled by France’s 4 Jan arrest, acting on Serbian warrant, of former PM Ramush Haradinaj on charges of war crimes; French court 12 Jan released him from custody, decision on extradition request from Belgrade pending. Kosovo and Serbian PMs and presidents met in Brussels 24 Jan for EU-mediated talks; EU foreign policy chief Mogherini called on them to put aside differences. President Thaci said meeting succeeded in lowering tension, however his remark that Serbian leaders had started to recognise Kosovo’s independence drew sharp response from Serbian PM Vucic; next meeting scheduled for 1 Feb. Hand grenade damaged new govt building in northern Mitrovica 10 Jan, no casualties.
Serbia and Kosovo must build on a recent breakthrough in negotiations and extend dialogue to sensitive issues, especially northern Kosovo’s institutions, in order to keep their fragile relationship moving forward.
Kosovo deserves to celebrate today as the international community converts the “supervised independence” it achieved four years ago to full independence, but it must also do more to guarantee full protection of minority rights, especially those of the country’s Serb population.
The dispute about Kosovo’s sovereignty continues to fuel tensions and violent clashes in northern Kosovo, halting Kosovo’s and Serbia’s fragile dialogue and putting at risk Serbia’s EU candidacy.
The dispute between Kosovo and Serbia, which keeps the Western Balkans divided and insecure, is most acute in Kosovo’s northern municipalities.
The development of more realistic, if not yet fully public, attitudes in Kosovo and Serbia suggest a win-win resolution of their dispute is feasible if both sides promptly open talks with the aim of reaching a comprehensive compromise.
Kosovo must bolster its failing justice system and establish rule of law throughout the country if it is to achieve prosperity and greater international recognition.
Originally published in Today's Zaman