|The EU-brokered talks aim to resolve practical problems caused by Kosovo breaking away in 2008 [GALLO/GETTY]|
Serbia and Kosovo have struck several deals to overcome practical problems for citizens caused by Belgrade’s refusal to recognise Pristina’s independence.
The deals, signed on Saturday, were the first between them since Kosovo declared independence three years ago.
Negotiators have met in EU-brokered talks since March in a bid to solve nut-and-bolts problems stemming from Kosovo’s 2008 breakaway.
At Saturday’s fifth round, the two sides agreed to enable free movement of people across the contentious border, resolve problems caused by Serbia holding civil registries, and in principle recognise each others’ education diplomas, the EU said in a statement.
Led by Borko Stefanovic, a Serbian foreign ministry official, and Edita Tahiri, the deputy prime minister of Kosovo, the latest eight-hour round took place in an informal atmosphere in the office of Robert Cooper, a leading EU diplomat who has been facilitating the talks.
At stake were the final touches to a deal to enable Kosovars to cross into Serbia, which views Kosovan vehicle number-plates and passports as invalid because it does not recognise the state.
The agreement “covers persons, who will be able to travel across the border/boundary on the basis of ID cards; it also covers car insurance and vehicle licence plates,” the EU statement said.
Likewise, the two agreed to help resolve problems caused by the transfer of civil registries that were moved from Kosovo to Serbia after the 1999 conflict.
On this chapter, the EULEX European police in Kosovo will act as intermediary to “certify copies of all original civil registry books with a view to establish a comprehensive civil registry in Kosovo,” the EU said.
“Upon request EULEX will provide specific civil registration information from Kosovo.”
The EU said there was an agreement in principle for mutual recognition of education diplomas. The two sides have also been working to resolve wrangles over telecommunications, customs and land records.
EU officials expect a new round to resolve all such issues before the summer break and on the eve of the talks, Stefanovic told Belgrade TV station B92 that “we might meet again later in July or in September”.
He had also said there was no question of Kosovars travelling through Serbia with passports or licence plates ssued by Pristina.
“A passport is the highest symbol of citizenship, while the identity card is not,” Stefanovic said.
The agreement by both sides to engage in talks brings them closer to the EU, with Serbia hoping to soon gain candidate status to join the 27-nation bloc.
It cleared a crucial hurdle to join by softening its stance on Kosovo and made a giant leap last month with the arrest of Ratko Mladic, Balkans war fugitive.
Belgrade still views Kosovo as its southern province, though 76 countries, including the United States and 22 out of 27 European Union members, have recognised it as an independent state.