Turkey’s Erdogan pledges to bolster stability in Balkans

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday pledged his country’s support in resolving long-standing disputes in the Balkans that continue to threaten stability in the troubled region.

Speaking in the Serbian capital Belgrade, Erdogan expressed hope that a recent agreement settling a travel document dispute between Serbia and Kosovo can help further bolster regional stability.

Tensions recently soared between Serbia and Kosovo over a mutual refusal to recognize each other’s travel documents. The dispute was resolved through Western mediation but other problems remain. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 which Belgrade won’t recognize.

“We are ready to extend our support and I hope that there is now a positive acceleration which will be sustained in the Balkans, because the Balkans can no longer tolerate these kind of problems,” Erdogan said at a joint press conference with Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic.

Erdogan’s stop in Belgrade was part of a tour of the Balkans. He visited Bosnia on Tuesday and on Thursday travels to Croatia where he will inaugurate a mosque.

Turkey has in recent years ramped up its presence in the Balkans, both politically and economically. Mainly Muslim Bosniak communities in Bosnia and Serbia have close relations with Ankara, while Turkish companies have increased investment in infrastructure projects throughout the region.

Erdogan also said Turkey would like to help three rival ethnic groups in Bosnia “find reconciliation.” Tensions there also have been simmering following the devastating 1992-95 war.

Erdogan and Vucic oversaw the signing of a string of cooperation agreements, including abolishing passports and simplifying travel between the two countries through the use of identity cards only. Serbia also asked for Turkey’s help to supply electricity from Azerbaijan through the coming winter amid a continent-wide energy crisis, Vucic said.

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