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News / Nation & World

US diplomat assures Kosovo that new draft of association of Serb municipalities offers no autonomy

Published: November 9, 2023, 7:47am

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The U.S. ambassador urged Kosovo’s government on Thursday to proceed with establishing an association of its Serb majority towns in order to unblock European Union-facilitated normalization talks with Serbia.

U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey M. Hovenier said “there is no reason for the government of Kosovo not to move forward with this draft statute.”

Normalization talks between Kosovo and Serbia have failed to make progress, particularly following a September shootout between masked Serb gunmen and Kosovo police that left four people dead and ratcheted up tensions in the region.

The EU and the United States are pressing both countries to implement agreements that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti reached earlier this year.

During a trip to the region at the end of last month, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Kosovo to establish an Association of the Serb-Majority Municipalities and pushed Serbia to deliver “de facto recognition” of the independence of Kosovo, which Belgrade still considers its province.

The 1998-1999 war between Serbia and Kosovo killed more than 10,000 people, mostly Kosovo Albanians. It ended after a 78-day NATO bombing campaign that compelled Serbian forces to withdraw from Kosovo.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 — a move Belgrade refuses to recognize.

Kosovo fears such an association would be a step toward creating a Serb mini-state with wide autonomy, similar to Republika Srpska in Bosnia.

The EU and the U.S. have given assurances that the association will coordinate work on education, health care, land planning and economic development in communities of northern Kosovo mostly populated by ethnic Serbs.

The association’s establishment was first agreed in Brussels in 2013, and approved in the Kosovo parliament. But Kosovo’s Constitutional Court later deemed it unconstitutional because it wasn’t inclusive of other ethnicities and could entail executive powers.

As part of the EU-facilitated dialogue, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni offered a new draft on the association two weeks ago which Kurti has accepted in principle, according to Hovenier.

“The United States believes strongly that the Association of Serb-majority municipalities should conform with Kosovo’s current constitution. It should conform with the Constitutional Court decision. It should not be an additional layer of government. There should not be any executive authorities,” Hovenier said.

“I don’t see how you have autonomy under those circumstances,” the ambassador said.

The new draft has set clearly that Kosovo’s Constitutional Court is to decide whether it is within the constitutional boundaries.

Both Serbia and Kosovo have said they want to join the 27-nation European block, but EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said their refusal to compromise is jeopardizing their chances for membership.