PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The United States and four European countries on Wednesday criticized Kosovo’s rejection of their “constructive proposal” for allowing the Balkan nation’s ethnic Serb minority to vote in neighboring Serbia’s April 3 election.
In a joint statement, the U.S., France Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom said they had spent months “intensely engaged” with Kosovo and Serbia “to find a pragmatic solution” for the participation of ethnic Serb citizens of Kosovo in the election.
“We acknowledge that it is the Kosovo government’s prerogative to decide whether or not to permit facilitation of voting in another country’s elections, read the statement from the five Western nations. “With this decision, Kosovo’s government failed to demonstrate its commitment to the principle of protecting the civil and political rights of all its citizens, including of members of minority groups.”
The statement did not describe what the rejected proposal entailed.
Kosovo’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, said his Cabinet has not decided against facilitating voting in Serbia’s election, but he insisted the two countries first need to have a preliminary agreement on the issue.
In previous Serbian elections, ethnic Serbs in Kosovo voted there under monitoring by international observers.
Details of the recent Western mediation efforts were not clear, but Kurti said an agreement between his government and Serbia’s could not be reached simply with an exchange of letters from their representatives at EU-supported talks to normalize ties between the two countries.
“We have expected a normal exchange of letters, their request on our stand, and that has not occurred,” Kurti said at a news conference. “I believe that the agreement should be reached through an exchange of letters between the government of Kosovo and the government of Serbia.”
In their statement, the U.S. and the four allies said that Kosovo’s stance regarding the voting “is not in line with our values and principles and will undermine its European aspirations.” Kosovo is seeking European Union membership.
Kurti said that members of Kosovo’s ethnic Serb community were expected to hold protests this week, which could exacerbate the lingering tensions between them and the country’s ethnic Albanian majority.
A bloody 1998-1999 bloody conflict between Serbia and Albanian separatists in Kosovo, then a Serbian province, left more than 10,000 people dead and triggered a NATO intervention.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move recognized by the United States and most EU nations. Serbia has refused to recognize Kosovo as separate nation after 11 years of EU-brokered negotiations.
“We reiterate our strong call upon Kosovo and Serbia to refrain from any actions and rhetoric that increase tensions and may lead to incidents,” the Western nation’s joint statement said.
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