EU says Serbia and Kosovo agree to ease travel restrictions

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The European Union has brokered a deal between candidate member Serbia and its former province of Kosovo to ease travel restrictions, removing an issue that had raised tensions in the Western Balkans, the foreign policy chief of the EU tweeted on Saturday. EU, Josep Borrell.

“We have a deal,” Borrell wrote. “As part of the EU-facilitated dialogue, Serbia has agreed to abolish entry/exit documents for Kosovo ID card holders and Kosovo has agreed not to introduce them for Kosovo ID card holders. a Serbian identity card.”

The move is symbolic progress in the decades-long dispute over Kosovo’s statehood and the coexistence of Albanians and Serbs, which remains unresolved despite diplomatic offensives by the US and EU, more recently this week.

A former Yugoslav province where Albanians are the vast majority, Kosovo fought a brief war of independence, culminating in NATO airstrikes on Belgrade in 1999 amid fears by the international community of ethnic cleansing of Albanians at the hands of Serbs.

For years under international protection, Pristina unilaterally separated from Belgrade in 2008. More than a hundred nations recognized its independence but Serbia refused to accept it, as did several EU and European countries. NATO like Spain, Greece and Romania.

Top US and EU envoys traveled to Kosovo and Serbia this week after talks in Brussels earlier this month broke down to resolve tensions over Kosovo’s decision to require special entry and exit documents in addition to Serbian identity documents – unless Serbia lifts a similar measure for Kosovars.

The EU and the United States acted in concert by exerting pressure on both the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, and the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vučić.

Kurti confirmed the deal in a Facebook post Saturday night.

“Thank you all for your support and patience, especially over the past four weeks,” he wrote. “The spirit of the principle and equality talks in Brussels is reciprocity. Standardization solutions should have reciprocity inside, because good neighborly relations imply it.

Vučić did not immediately comment.

“I thank [US state department deputy assistant secretary Gabriel] Escobar and US diplomacy for their strong commitment to EU-facilitated dialogue,” EU chief negotiator Miroslav Lajčák said in a Twitter post.

Pristina has banked on its pro-Western credentials to push for quick NATO and EU membership amid the war in Ukraine, while likening it to Serbia’s traditional closeness to Russia. Belgrade dismissed this as diplomatic posturing.

But membership is conditional on the normalization of relations with Serbia, which has been a candidate for membership for years but has not yet succeeded in resolving the Kosovo conflict.

Vučić said he expected an agreement on identity documents, adding that he would defend the interests of ethnic Serbs who live in Kosovo but reject Pristina’s authority. Prominent Serbian politicians have refused to give ground on Kosovo, often calling the country “our province”.

Members of the northern Kosovo Serb community erected barricades and watched Kosovo police as Pristina first introduced entry and exit document rules. Shots were fired without causing any injuries. Kosovo extended the deadline for the application of the rules on documents by one month until September 1, but insisted on equal treatment of citizens of the two countries.

“Kosovo Serbs, as well as all other citizens, will be able to travel freely between Kosovo and Serbia using their identity cards. The EU has just received guarantees from Prime Minister Kurti to this end,” Borrell wrote. “It is a European solution. We congratulate both leaders.

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