Serbia, Kosovo Sign Initial Deal to Normalize Relations

Serbia and Kosovo reached a preliminary accord to normalize ties after years of conflict and tension, paving the way for reconciliation and talks on joining the European Union.

“This is an historic day for Serbia-Kosovo relations, for the entire Western Balkans region and for the European Union,” Stefan Fule, the EU’s enlargement chief, said in an e-mailed statement from Brussels. “It is crucial now that the political leadership and general public in both Serbia and Kosovo support the agreement and actively help to implement it.”

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and Kosovar Premier Hashim Thaci initialed the agreement in Brussels in their 10th round of EU-mediated talks. The deal, which both leaders must now get approved in their capitals, would help Serbia win a start date for EU membership talks in June and unlock pre-entry negotiations for its breakaway province, after Kosovo declared independence in 2008 following the wars of the 1990s that split the former Yugoslavia.

“This is the draft text whose approval or rejection by either side will decided in the coming days,” Dacic told reporters in Brussels. “The document is certainly better for our side than all previous proposals.”

Thaci called it the “best possible” solution.

“We are fully aware that there will be people in both of our countries that are not going to be very happy with this solution,” he said.

Dinar Down

The Serbian dinar traded 0.1 percent weaker at 111.4970 per euro after the announcement at 5:18 p.m. in Belgrade. The main stock market index of 15 most actively traded assets dropped 0.55 percent to close at 556.36 points, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Serbia had refused to acknowledge Kosovo’s independence, which has been recognized by more than 90 nations, including the U.S. and 22 of 27 EU member states, and vowed never to recognize it. The two leaders met after an April 17 round ended without an agreement.

The accord came after Serbia’s delegation met with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to seek guarantees that the army of Kosovo will be kept away from northern Kosovo. Rasmussen promised help to ensure a peaceful coexistence.

Step Forward

“It has sometimes been difficult, but all leaders concerned have risen above the difficulties,” Rasmussen said in a statement today. “This agreement means a big step forward for regional peace and security. And it will give new momentum to the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkans, which is our shared vision.”

Serbia wants Kosovo to allow Serbs who live in the north to have their own police and judiciary systems. Before the accord was announced, Thaci said the Serbian community won’t get “executive powers” to avoid creating “another layer of the government.”

Still, Kosovo will “create the conditions for opening of the first free and open elections in the north, and the institutions of Kosovo will invite the OSCE to observe this process,” Thaci said, referring to the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

‘Ground-Breaking’ Deal

Final recommendations from both sides will be delivered by Fule and EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton on April 22, Fule said. “It’s an opportunity that can’t be missed,” he said, calling the agreement “ground-breaking.”

Ashton had invited the two leaders to Brussels to make another effort toward reconciliation before Fule completes his report on Serbia’s readiness to start membership talks, which include an accord with Kosovo.

Dacic had said Thaci “wanted to link the resolution of the police issue with a new point introduced that both sides will commit not to block each other in international organizations.”

“And where can Kosovo block us? Nowhere,” Dacic said after talks in April 17. “That means that we should allow Kosovo to become a member of international organizations, then better ask us clearly to recognize Kosovo.”

Ashton’s offer addressed Serb communities’ “right to appoint the chief of the regional police, as well as police commanders for each Serbian municipality” in Kosovo, according to Marko Djuric, the foreign policy adviser to Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic.

In Kosovo’s north, Serb leaders demanded a nationwide referendum on possible EU-mediated agreement, opposing any pact that would “legitimize the unrecognized, self-proclaimed state,” said Dragisa Vasic, the head of the Leposavic municipality, one of four in northern Kosovo where Serbs form a majority.

Vasic is convinced the accord would be rejected in a plebiscite, while some 100,000 Serbs still living in Kosovo would oppose any attempt to implement it, he said in a phone interview before the announcement.

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