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U.S. Denies Pushing Plan For Kosovo-Serbia Land Swap

By RFE/RL March 27, 2020

The United States says it has no "secret plan" to push land swaps between Kosovo and Serbia, rejecting speculation by some Kosovar officials that such a move was in the works.

The State Department issued the statement on March 26, days after the government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti collapsed amid a dispute over coronavirus measures, as well as the continuing impasse between Pristina and Belgrade.

"We want to make clear there is no secret plan for land swaps between Kosovo and Serbia, as some have speculated," the State Department said in a statement. "Special Presidential Envoy Richard Grenell has never seen nor discussed such a plan."

European Union-mediated negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade broke down in 2018 over reports of a proposed land swap and after Kosovo imposed a 100 percent tax on Serbian imports in November.

Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, declared independence in 2008 in a move rejected by Belgrade.

Both Kosovo and Serbia aspire to join the EU, which has made the normalization of relations a precondition.

Complicating any solution to the dispute has been continued political instability in the country, heightened by the fall of Kurti's government after just four months in power.

The U.S. statement, which was signed by Grenell, Ambassador to Kosovo Philip Kosnett, and Special Representative for the Western Balkans Matthew Palmer, said Washington remains committed to working with any government formed "through the constitutional process."

"In this time of uncertainty, we urge Kosovo's leaders to follow Kosovo's constitution and the rule of law," the statement said.

In normal circumstances, a snap election could be held, but that is unlikely amid the battle to stem the spread of the COVID-19 illness.

For now, according to the country's constitution, Kurti is staying as caretaker prime minister until his leftist-nationalist Vetevendosje (Self-Determination) party puts forward a candidate for premier as required in the next 15 days.

But the toppling of the government leaves the small Western-backed nation without strong leadership as it struggles to stem the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. statement linked the battle against the virus with the tariffs, urging their removal.

"We believe the tariffs are harming the people of Kosovo by hindering regional cooperation against COVID-19 – including by delaying the entry into Kosovo of needed supplies – and hindering economic growth," it said.

Authorities have confirmed more than 71 coronavirus infections and at least one death, that of an 82-year-old man with underlying health issues.

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/u-s- denies-pushing-plan-for-kosovo-serbia -land-swap/30512952.html

Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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