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Dispute with Kosovo can only be settled through negotiations, Serbia says at UN

23 September 2011 – Serbia cannot accept Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence but it will also not abandon the negotiations process between Belgrade and Pristina, the country’s President told the General Assembly’s annual general debate today.

Boris Tadic told the debate’s third day that any progress between the two sides needs trust, and that “negotiations and reconciliation are not achieved through unilateral concessions from one side only.”

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, but Serbia does not recognize the declaration. In recent weeks tensions ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians have flared anew, particularly in the north of Kosovo, sparking concerns from United Nations officials.

Mr. Tadic said today that Serbia has “two immediate parallel objectives – to secure a mutually-acceptable arrangement in Kosovo, which provides iron-clad guarantees for the Serbian communities, and to accelerate our progress to membership of the European Union.

“Both these objectives are achievable. And it would be foolish for anyone to think that one objective would be sacrificed on the altar of the other.”

In his address the President said his country “has always sought tangible assurances, bound by international agreement and guarantees, that Serbian communities inhabiting Kosovo, Serbian interests and Serbia’s cultural heritage will be protected and allowed to flourish.

“Many of these issues have been discussed over the last few years in different formats. Occasionally there have been agreements reached, but never implemented. It is time that matters were clarified.”

Any form of understanding between the two sides must include a series of explicit guarantees, he stressed, including agreement on “the status of the Serbian population in North Kosovo,” the implementation of decentralization in Kosovo, and the status of the Serbian Orthodox Church and its key holy sites.

“Finally, resolution must be achieved on the question of property. Thousands of outstanding private claims remain pending, making hostages of those internally displaced in 1999. The failure to advance with goodwill on the very issue – the rights of the Serbian communities in Kosovo – which is at the core of our concerns is very disturbing.”

Yesterday, Mr. Tadic discussed developments in Kosovo and the Western Balkans with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, with the UN chief encouraging Serbia’s full and patient participation in the European Union-brokered dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.

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