Kosovo-Serbia ice breaking talks fuel optimism
Borko Stefanovic, Political Director of Serbian Ministry - Edita Tahiri, Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo - Photo EU Council
(BELGRADE) - Serbia and Kosovo on Thursday reacted positively to their first direct talks since Pristina declared independence three years ago, fuelling hopes of a future breakthrough.
"I think we can be optimists," Serbia's chief negotiatior Borko Stefanovic said after the two-day talks in Brussels.
"This dialogue does not require anyone to abandon their position in relation to the status issue, but rather to solve some concrete issues," Stefanovic told reporters.
Edita Tahiri, the head of Kosovo's delegation, also sounded an upbeat note, saying that "good progress has been made, but I cannot say how big."
"We have made progress in terms of presenting proposals, attempts to find a joint basis, but all these issues should be processed in the next phases," she told reporters.
The first tete-a-tete talks since Kosovo's ethnic Albanians unilaterally seceeded from Serbia in 2008 were held Tuesday and Wednesday at the European Union's headquarters, focusing on practical issues that affect everyday life.
While there were few concrete announcements, they did agree to make records on land and property available to all, while also discussing regional trade deals and touching on aviation and telecommunications, according to the EU.
A diplomat in Belgrade said that the start of the dialogue has shown that "the political step has been taken."
"It is necessary to show to both peoples that these meetings can make progress and that agreements can be translated concretely on the ground," the European diplomat said.
The rift between Pristina and Kosovo's former masters in Belgrade have given rise to all sorts of practical anomalies and practical headaches.
For example, Serbia currently blocks all goods coming from Kosovo although its own goods can freely enter Kosovo through the Serb-majority north.
Rail connections have been cut since 1999, and Serbian airspace is closed to airlines headed to Pristina.
The talks had been delayed by the recent elections in Kosovo, which eventually saw Prime Minister Hashim Thaci returned to power. And, according to analysts in Belgrade and Pristina, the fact that the two sides met at all was in itself something worth celebrating.
"It was an opportunity to break the ice in which the main achievement was to get all the parties to sit down at the same table, introduce them to each other, and get them to make their positions public," said Ymer Mushkolaj, a political analyst in Pristina.
"Even I can notice a progress in relations between the two sides as they conducted a friendly meeting. So, the very fact that there was a meeting between the two sides is a success as far as I am concerned," he told AFP.
In Belgrade, Biljana Mitrinovic, a columnist for the Politika daily, echoed Mushkolaj's words.
"The greatest achievement is that they sat down at the same table at all and talked. Nobody expected any other outcome in the first round," she said.
Serbia's Vecernje Novosti daily sounded a more cautious note, saying the two sides had only "agreed only on a definition of the problems they face" and that the talks had ended after only eight hours "without significant progress."
In Kosovo, opposition parties voted against the parliamentary resolution that should give the delegation an official backing.
"We asked all parliamentarian groups to reject the resolution since we think it is a responsibility of the parliament to decide about the talks," said Visar Imeri of the Self-determination movement.
But thanks to its slim majority of 63 votes in the 120-seat parliament, Thaci's governing coalition adopted the resolution.
The next round of talks is expected to get underway by the end of the month, an EU diplomat said.
Serbia, which fiercely opposes Kosovo's independence and still considers the territory its southern province, has agreed to talk about everyday problems as an improvement in relations is a key precondition for its goal of further EU integration.
Kosovo hopes that the talks could lead to wider recognition of its independence and eventually lead to its membership of international organisations, including the United Nations.
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