Serbia and Its Neighbor Move to Soothe Nerves After Spying Spat

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  • Rep. of Macedonia, Serbia to resolve spat through dialog
  • Two countries to step up top-level contact, boost trade

Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia moved to soothe rattled nerves after Belgrade withdrew diplomats from its former Yugoslav partner and accused it of spying.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev agreed on a five-point plan by phone on Wednesday to stabilize relations. On Sunday, Serbia recalled four diplomats from Skopje saying its smaller southern neighbor had engaged in “offensive intelligence activity” related to Kosovo, whose status Serbia has refused to recognize since it declared independence in 2008. Macedonia’s government denied the accusations.

The two leaders agreed to use dialog to resolve outstanding issues, support each other’s efforts to integrate with the European Union and bolster economic relations, among other points, according to a joint statement issued by Vucic’s office.

“Regardless of political differences on certain important political and regional matter, Serbia and Macedonia will fight not only to maintain but also advance friendship between Serbia and Macedonia and their people,” they said in the statement.

On Tuesday, Vucic said the move to pull out Serbia’s staff was a way to “show ‘we know what you’ve been up to.’” He said relations had become strained because Macedonia recognizes Kosovo’s independence and plans to back its bid to join the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO.

The spat comes two months after Zaev formed a coalition government with ethnic Albanian parties, pledging to mend ties with neighbors and revive efforts to join the EU and NATO. Serbia, which must resolve differences over Kosovo to succeed with its own EU bid, has also denied accusations from Macedonia and fellow ex-Yugoslav republic Montenegro that it helped attempts by pro-Russian forces to derail the two countries’ NATO accession efforts.

“The problem is that someone is trying to drag Serbia into those affairs,” Vucic said. Even so, he told RTS that there’s no reason to fear any effect on peace and stability in the region.

— With assistance by Slav Okov

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