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Europe

Ground-breaking talks between Serbia and Kosovo begin

media Kosovo's ethnic Albanians celebrate the third anniversary of Kosovo's declaration … 17 February 2011 Reuters

Serbia and Kosovo begin talks in Brussels on Tuesday, the first since Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008. The “historic” face-to-face discussions will cover issues such as border crossings, trade and personal documentation.

The talks, due to conclude on Wednesday, will keep potential apologies and any kind of recognition strictly off the table.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Monday that she hoped that talks would help bring the two countries closer to the EU.

Serbia cleared an important hurdle for EU membership last year and has softened its position on Kosovo.

“This is an opportunity for an historic reconciliation between Serbs and (Kosovo) Albanians and neither Belgrade nor Pristina should pass it up,” Goran Bogdanovic, Serbia’s minister for Kosovo, said last week.

Newly re-elected Kosovo prime minister Hashim Thaci is likely to see the meeting as diplomatically vital to rehabilitating his image. Kosovo’s leadership stands accused of harvesting organs from former Serbian prisoners.

While Belgrade is adamant that recognition of the independence of its former territory is a step too far.

“For us Kosovo is Serbia,” Serbia’s chief negotiator Borko Stefanovic told the AFP news agency this week.

Kosovar Albanians are unhappy about Belgrade’s refusal to apologise for the deaths of Albanians before Nato’s 1999 intervention.

Kosovo’s self-proclaimed sovereignty has been recognised by 75 nations, including the United States and a majority of EU countries.

Analysis - Spyros Economides, Balkans specialist, London School of Economics

"Both sides have made it very clear that they want these discussions to start at a rather low-key level. Certainly the EU - which is mediating these talks, which has brought the two parties to the table in Brussels, where this set of dialogue is going to commence - wants to ensure that the dialogue is up and running before any sensitive issues are touched upon. So what they’ve all agreed is that initially talks will touch on technical issues to do with freedom of movement, regional cooperation, to do with the possibility of at least opening up some links between Serbia and Kosovo which don’t raise the question of statehood, independence and recognition. If that is the case then at least you can facilitate a dialogue which will enable some kind of progress to be made and subsequently, hopefully some of the bigger issues can be debated in a less heated and more constructive technocratic manner."

 
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