EU calls for end to war talk in Balkans ahead of Serbia-Kosovo meetings

The EU has demanded that Serbia and Kosovo abandon talk of war as the bloc and Nato prepare to hold crisis talks with the rivals this week in a bid to avert fresh conflict in the Balkans.

Tension between the neighbouring states, which often threatens the stability of the Balkans, spilled over into violent protests and border disturbances last month. Kosovo prime minister Albin Kurti has accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of pushing Moscow’s allies in Serbia towards an attack.

Belgrade has denied stoking tensions. But Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić said this month that the unrest was “a step away from catastrophe”.

The EU’s diplomatic arm said on Sunday that the recent increase in inflammatory rhetoric between officials of Kosovo and Serbia, “in particular the statements about war and conflict in the western Balkans are of great concern”.

Both Kurti and Vučić will attend the talks in Brussels this week. The rising concern among EU and Nato states over the potential for conflict in the region comes as Europe scrambles to contain the security fallout from almost six months of war in Ukraine following Putin’s invasion of that country.

“It is a tinderbox,” said one senior EU official. “We are watching Ukraine, of course, but are extremely concerned about the Balkans also.”

Kurti last week used a series of media interviews to warn of a potential attack from Serbia, claiming Putin was encouraging Belgrade and wanted to “spread war” beyond Ukraine.

Serbia has refused to acknowledge Kosovo’s sovereignty since its former province declared independence in 2008. That came nine years after the Kosovo war, which ended after Nato bombed Serbia in response to Belgrade’s targeted killing of Kosovan Albanians.

More than 90 per cent of Kosovo’s population is ethnic Albanian, but the country is home to a small group of ethnic Serbs. Belgrade accuses Pristina of discriminating against the Serbian minority.

On July 31, Serbian protesters blocked border crossings and fired shots at police officers in response to new rules ordering all citizens of Kosovo — including ethnic Serbs — to possess identification documents and car registration plates issued by Pristina.

Under pressure from Brussels, the mandate was delayed by 30 days.

An EU official said senior politicians from both countries “will be held responsible for any escalation that leads to any increased tensions and, potentially violence in the region”.

“Both parties must immediately put an end to mutual hostilities and dangerous statements and act responsibly,” the official said.

Vučić and Kurti will meet Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg on August 17, before holding talks with the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell the following day.

The two countries are formally committed to an EU-facilitated dialogue process, while Nato still has around 3,700 troops stationed in Kosovo.

Within hours of the first reports of border disturbances last month, Nato issued a statement saying it was “monitoring closely” and was “prepared to intervene if stability is jeopardised”.

Nato’s Kosovo deployment “will take whatever measures are necessary to keep a safe and secure environment in Kosovo at all times, in line with its UN mandate”, the statement said.


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