Serbia hopes Kosovo progress can clinch EU candidacy
(BELGRADE) - Serbia prepares for a new round of negotiations with Pristina on Wednesday after a night of violence in Kosovo, one of the main obstacles in its bid for European Union membership.
In the latest surge of violence late Monday, 25 soldiers from the NATO-led KFOR force stationed in northern Kosovo were injured during clashes in which up to 100 Serb protesters were also hurt.
Prominent Serbian journalist Bosko Jaksic wrote in the daily Politika that the site of the clashes with KFOR forces could become the "garbage dump" for Serbia's EU ambitions.
Serbian President Boris Tadic on Tuesday urged Kosovo Serbs to remove roadblocks.
"The roadblocks are not helping Serbian national interests, on the contrary: they are jeopardising Serbian interests."
It is the first time that the Serbian leader has made such a direct appeal to Kosovo Serbs to take down the roadblocks they put up in September, warning that the situation in Kosovo jeopardizes Serbia's EU candidacy bid which he said is now "further removed than before" Monday's clashes.
The violence Monday was the latest in a series of incidents as KFOR cleared one of several roadblocks erected by Kosovo's Serbs -- opposed to Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia -- when Pristina authorities tried to seize control of two disputed border crossings in the north.
The incidents caused a two-month interruption of EU brokered talks to solve daily problems that arise from Belgrade's refusal to recognise Kosovo's declaration of independence.
The discussions finally resumed last week, with negotiators reaching a basic agreement on several technical issues.
The next round of talks is expected on Wednesday in Brussels, just a week ahead of an EU foreign ministers' summit at which Belgrade hopes to get EU candidacy status.
EU president Herman Van Rompuy on Friday warned the bloc needed further assurances of Serbia's good faith in talks with Kosovo before allowing Belgrade to take a step closer to joining the EU.
Belgrade officials have repeatedly called on Kosovo Serbs to restrain from any violence while at the same time urging KFOR not to provoke unrest.
But Kosovo Serb politicians -- a widely diverse team with some supporting more nationalist forces in Serbia while others back Tadic -- have rejected many of Belgrade's directives.
In particular, they have warned in a letter to Belgrade that they will not accept any agreement forged by chief negotiator Borko Stefanovic, saying any such agreement would "harm Serb national and state interests".
Wednesday's round of talks, the eighth, is expected to tackle disputed border posts and Pristina's representation at regional summits, which in the past have been blocked by Belgrade in opposition to Kosovo's independence.
The EU is seeking agreement on a system of "integrated border management", where border crossings would be placed under the joint management of Serbia and Kosovo, with officials and police from the European rule of law mission EULEX overseeing the crossings.
"If we manage to reach a compromise for one of these two issues, Serbia would get its (EU) candidacy," a confident Stefanovic told Belgrade daily Danas.
But analysts warn that, even if the EU bid succeeds, Tadic and his allies could be ousted from power in elections due to be held in spring next year.
"If he gets (candidacy) at the cost of losing northern Kosovo, his victory could prove catastrophic," said political commentator Ljiljana Smajlovic, adding that voters would also likely punish Tadic if he doesn't get candidacy for Belgrade.
Kosovo analyst Belul Beqaj painted a bleak outcome of the talks on the disputed border issue, describing it as a "very sensitive" for Belgrade.
"If Serbia accepts the proposal for integrated border management it will mean that Belgrade accepts the border between it and Kosovo... It will be the recognition of Kosovo by Serbia," Beqaj told AFP.
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