US, EU envoys meet with Serbian president on Kosovo

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — U.S. and European Union envoys met with Serbia’s president on Thursday as they pressed ahead with efforts to defuse Serbian tensions with Kosovo after a meeting last week in Brussels ended with no agreement on a dispute between the former Balkan war foes.

Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo soared late last month when Kosovo’s government declared that Serb-issued identity documents and vehicle license plates would no longer be valid in Kosovo’s territory, just as Kosovo-issued ones are not valid in Serbia.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence, and still considers the territory as its own.

U.S. envoy Gabriel Escobar and the EU’s Miroslav Lajcak both said after the meeting with Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic that efforts to resolve the disputed issue will continue. They offered no other details.

Escobar and Lajcak came to Belgrade from Kosovo, where they met Wednesday with Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti and on Thursday with the Kosovo Serb leaders.

“Tough and long meeting just now with President Vucic,” Escobar was quoted on the U.S. embassy’s Twitter account. “We appreciate the president’s commitment to peace and stability.”

Lajcak described the discussion as “difficult but responsible.”

Kurti has said he was acting with reciprocity to the measures from Serbia with his move on license plates and documents. But Kosovo Serbs have responded furiously, blocking roads in the Serb-dominated north of Kosovo. Belgrade accused Kosovo of pressuring minority Serbs, who largely reject Kosovo-issued documents defying its statehood.

The incident has fueled fears of more unrest in the Balkans amid the uncertainties caused by the war in Ukraine and Russia’s close ties with Serbia. Kosovo has postponed the decision implementation until Sept. 1 as Washington and Brussels step up diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis.

Kosovo’s independence has been recognized by Washington and most EU countries, while Serbia has relied on support from Moscow and China for its bid to retain the former province. Belgrade lost control over Kosovo in 1999 after NATO bombed the country to stop its brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatist rebels.

Vucic said on Instagram that “we had no easy talks.” He added that “we will not give up our vital national and state interests, primarily the interests of our people, your security.”

For the past several years, the EU has mediated negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia to normalize relations, seeking to move forward their efforts to join the European Union.

NATO peacekeepers have stepped up their presence in northern Kosovo in response to the increased tensions.

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