After more than a decade of negotiations, EU wants Balkan neighbours to settle on plan and put hostilities to rest.
The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo have returned to Brussels for talks to normalise ties and implement a European Union 11-point normalisation plan.
Tuesday’s meeting follows one in February when both leaders backed the EU plan after 12 years of talks. They also met in March in North Macedonia, where Belgrade and Pristina tentatively agreed on how to implement it.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will convene the meeting between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti.
The leaders are expected to discuss creating an association of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo, which was once part of Serbia and whose overall population is more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian.
They are also expected to tackle the issue of the more than 1,600 people still officially missing since the 1998-99 Kosovo War, which erupted when ethnic Albanian separatists rebelled against Serbia’s rule and Belgrade responded with a brutal crackdown.
About 13,000 people died, mostly ethnic Albanians. In 1999, a NATO military intervention forced Serbia to pull out of the territory.
The EU proposal covers the normalisation of relations between the two countries and their future path towards peace and EU membership.
Miroslav Lajcak, Borrell’s envoy for the Belgrade-Pristina negotiations, said the meeting is “a crucial step forward, and it’s important to avoid any actions that could worsen the atmosphere”.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Brussels and the United States have increasingly intervened to calm tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.
Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, which Serbia does not recognise. Serbia still regards Kosovo as a breakaway province, and bad relations between the two Balkan neighbours have raised fears of a return to war.
A sticking point has been Belgrade’s insistence that Pristina implement a 2013 agreement to establish an association of northern Kosovo municipalities with Serb-majority populations. Kosovo’s Constitutional Court has declared that plan unconstitutional.
Serbia said progress in the talks is only possible after this issue is tackled.
Referring to the association agreement, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said: “Everyone was thrilled that it was a historic act. Ten years passed, and the association of Serb municipalities did not happen.”
Local elections were held last month in northern Kosovo’s Serb-dominated communes after Serb representatives left their posts last year, but the vote was overwhelmingly boycotted by ethnic Serbs.
Vucic praised the boycott and criticised Western officials, calling them liars and frauds. He said the Serb minority would no longer tolerate foreign “occupation”.
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