BRUSSELS – The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo made no breakthrough in EU-hosted emergency talks on Thursday aimed at defusing tensions around their border. The European Union’s top diplomat said they agree on the need for early elections amid fears of a return to open conflict.
Serbia and its former province of Kosovo have been at odds for decades. Their 1998-99 war left more than 10,000 people dead, mostly Kosovo Albanians. Belgrade has refused to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence.
“I think the two leaders understand the severity of the situation,” Borrell said after hours of talks each with Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. The two refused to meet face-to-face in Brussels but held separate talks with Borrell.
Borrell conceded that they have “different interpretations of the causes and also the facts, consequences and solutions.”
Tensions flared anew last month after Kosovo police seized local municipality buildings in northern Kosovo, where Serbs represent a majority, to install ethnic Albanian mayors who were elected in a local election that Serbs overwhelmingly boycotted.
Serbia has put its troops on the border on the highest state of alert amid a series of recent clashes between Kosovo Serbs on one side and Kosovo police and NATO-led peacekeepers on the other. In recent weeks, NATO has sent in reinforcements.
The tensions persisted last week with three stun grenades exploded near Kosovo police stations in the north of the country, while Kosovo Serbs staged protests in front of municipality buildings.
Borrell said the EU has repeatedly called on the two sides to help restore calm and return to the negotiating table. “So far all we have been witnessing is just the opposite,” he said, reading a written statement to reporters.
On the positive side, Borrell said, “we agreed on the need for new elections and discussed in detail the modalities and the steps on how to get there.”
Reporters were not permitted to ask Borrell questions to understand what those plans might involve.
Vucic appeared downbeat. He was unable to say what steps, if any, might be taken in the days and weeks ahead to calm things down. He said that Serbs in Kosovo no long want to live under “Kurti’s terror,” and that no face-to-face talks are likely anytime soon.
Vucic told reporters that he would not walk away from any talks, but said that in his meeting with Borrell and his team, “I also warned that Serbs are in very tough position and do not want to endure the terror they have been forced to endure so far.”
“There is an open (man) hunt for the Serbs every day,” Vucic added. He said that EU officials “have done all in their power but how things will develop depends much less on Borrell than on those who are not interested in de-escalation.”
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg vowed that the alliance's peacekeepers “will continue to act impartially."
"We have increased our presence and will continue to take all necessary measures to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all communities in Kosovo,” Stoltenberg said,
Just four months ago, Borrell had made things seem promising. He exited talks with Vucic and Kurti to announce that Serbia and Kosovo had given their tacit approval to a EU-sponsored plan to end months of political crises and help improve their ties longer-term.
But the “deal” unraveled almost immediately as both leaders appeared to renege on commitments that Borrell suggested they had made.
Associated Press writers Dusan Stojanovic and Jovana Gec in Belgrade contributed to this report.