Serbia’s Ana Brnabic has expressed willingness to compromise during her first visit to Kosovo since becoming prime minister almost five years ago, a day after Germany and France appealed to Serbia and Kosovo to resolve a flare-up in tension.
Unrest among Serbs in northern Kosovo over demands for them to use Kosovo documents has raised fears of conflict between the two countries, more than two decades after NATO bombed Serbia to end repression of Kosovo’s Albanian majority.
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Serbia does not recognise Kosovo’s independence and about 3,700 NATO peacekeepers still patrol to prevent violence between the Albanian and Serb communities.
Dozens of US-NATO troops stepped up patrols in northern Kosovo at the start of the month to preserve calm after the government in Pristina set a two-month deadline for Serbs in the area, which borders Serbia, to switch to Kosovo licence plates.
Earlier attempts to introduce Kosovo licence plates in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo led to clashes between police and local Serbs, who erected roadblocks. The barricades were dismantled only when NATO peacekeepers stepped in to oversee the process and Kosovo agreed to postpone the licensing demand.
During her first visit to Kosovo since she took over as prime minister in 2017, Brnabic said: “Compromise in the interest of peace and stability – definitely yes.”
In the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica, about 1,000 local Serbs greeted Brnabic, waving Serbian flags and holding signs that read “We have only one prime minister” and “Welcome to Serbia, holy land of Kosovo”.
“I sincerely hope that the temporary institutions in Pristina become genuinely committed to dialogue and finding a certain compromise needed for long-term normalisation of ties between Belgrade and Pristina,” said Brnabic during a news conference, referring to Kosovo authorities.
“That is something we need – not just for our European integration – but for ourselves,” she said.
Serbia has been a candidate to join the European Union since 2012. However, most experts doubt the country stands a chance of entering the bloc until Belgrade hammers out a deal to normalise ties with Kosovo.
Brnabic’s delegation travelled with a heavy security detail, while NATO troops were stationed along the main roads in the area and a helicopter circled overhead.
During her one-day Kosovo tour, the 46-year-old was set to visit educational facilities, a Serbian Orthodox monastery, and chat with local farmers.
In another show of willingness to mend relations, Kosovo ministers visited areas in southern Serbia where Albanians are in the majority.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, wrote to Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti on Sunday saying normal ties between Kosovo and Serbia are “of crucial importance” to the region.
“Recent tensions have shown that constructive steps forward are urgently needed, both on the practical and the political level,” Scholz and Macron wrote in the letter, which was published by both Vucic’s and Kurti’s offices.
Talks between Kosovo and Serbia under the auspices of the EU and US envoys have so far failed to solve the licence plates issue, although Belgrade and Pristina reached a deal on the use of personal identity documents.
Serbs account for 5 percent of the 1.8 million people in Kosovo and Serbia accuses Kosovo of trampling on their rights, a charge denied by Pristina.
Kosovo is recognised by some 100 countries, including the United States and all but five EU members, but not by a number of other states, notably Russia and China.