EU envoy in surprise visit to Kosovo to push for further steps in normalization talks with Serbia

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PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The European Union’s envoy for the western Balkans began a surprise two-day visit to Kosovo on Monday to talk with its leaders on further steps in normalization talks with Serbia.

Miroslav Lajcak met with Kosovar Deputy Prime Minister Besnik Bislimi, who is Kosovo’s main negotiator in the EU-facilitated talks with Serbia, from which Kosovo declared independence in 2008 nearly a decade after they fought a bloody war.

The visit is “to follow up on the recent meeting with European leaders in Brussels and the need for full implementation of the Agreement on the Path to Normalization without delay or preconditions,” Lajcak said on X, the former Twitter. “We also agreed on next steps,” he wrote, without giving any details.

Lajcak also planned to meet with Prime Minister Albin Kurti and opposition leaders.

During a trip to the region last week, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Kosovo to establish an association of its Serb majority towns and pushed Serbia to deliver “de facto recognition” of the independence of Kosovo, which Belgrade still considers its province.

The normalization talks have failed to make progress, especially following a September shootout between masked Serb gunmen and Kosovo police that left four people dead and ratcheted up tensions in the region.

The last thing the EU wants is more conflict in its backyard. The war between Serbia and Kosovo in 1998-99 killed more than 10,000 people, mostly Kosovo Albanians.

Both Serbia and Kosovo have said they want to join the 27-nation EU, but EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said their refusal to compromise is jeopardizing their chances for membership.

The EU and the United States are pressing both countries to put implement agreements that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kurti reached in February and March.

But Vucic and Kurti deeply distrust each other and neither wants to be the first to make concessions without guarantees that the other will reciprocate.

The EU and U.S. want Kosovo to allow the creation of an Association of the Serb-Majority Municipalities to coordinate work on education, health care, land planning and economic development in communities of northern Kosovo mostly populated by ethnic Serbs.

Kurti has worried that would be a step toward creating a Serb mini-state with wide autonomy. But he apparently has accepted an EU proposal on the association if it is formally signed by himself and Vucic together with the February and March documents.

Vucic has made it clear Serbia would never recognize Kosovo or accept it to be a United Nations member.

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Llazar Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.