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Serbia - Relations with Kosovo

Belgrade continues to claim that Kosovo is part of Serbia. The October 2009 National Security Strategy of the Republic of Serbia statets that "Separatist aspirations in the region are real threat to its security. By its level of difficulty and complexity, as well as negative implications for the internal stability of countries in the region and their security situation, the attempted secession of a part of the territory of the Republic of Serbia based on the unilateral declaration of independence by the provisional institutions of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija is a particularly distinguished problem. Recognition of the so-called Republic of Kosovo by some states in the immediate environment of the Republic of Serbia, as well as a number of countries in the world, adversely reflects on strengthening measures of trust and cooperation, and slows down the process of stabilization in this region."

Between 1991 and 1992, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia all seceded from Yugoslavia. On April 27, 1992, in Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro joined in passing the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (F.R.Y.). Kosovo's peaceful resistance movement failed to yield results, and in 1997 the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) began an armed resistance. The KLA's main goal was to secure the independence of Kosovo.

In late 1998, Milosevic unleashed a brutal police and military campaign against the separatist KLA, which included atrocities against civilian noncombatants. For the duration of Milosevic's campaign, tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians were either displaced from their homes in Kosovo or killed by Serbian troops or police. These acts, and Serbia's refusal to sign the Rambouillet Accords, prompted 79 days of bombing by NATO forces from March to June 1999 and led the UN Security Council (UNSC) to authorize, through UNSC Resolution 1244 (June 10, 1999), an international civil and military presence in Kosovo under UN auspices. The resolution called for UN interim administration of Kosovo and authorized the international civil presence to facilitate a process to determine Kosovo's status. Following Milosevic's capitulation, international forces--including the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the NATO-led security force KFOR--moved into Kosovo.

Kosovo Albanians and Kosovo Serbs continued to have opposite views on final status. In one poll in 2005, some 93% of Albanian respondents and 87% of non-Serb minority respondents were in favor of the independence of Kosovo, while 92.8% of Serb respondents supported Kosovo remaining an autonomous province within Serbia

In mid-2007, the UNSC deadlocked on a way forward on Kosovo status and how to act on UN Special Envoy Maarti Ahtisaari's Kosovo status proposal. On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared its independence following a 120-day last-ditch effort by the European Union (EU)-Russia-U.S. Troika to facilitate an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo on the latter's status. The United States officially recognized Kosovo's independence the following day.

Serbia's bilateral relationships with many countries were strained following Kosovo's independence in February 2008. In the days following Kosovo's independence, rioters in Belgrade attacked the embassies of several countries, including the United States, causing significant property damage. Serbia recalled its ambassadors for consultations from all countries that formally recognized Kosovo. Serbia returned its ambassadors to EU countries in July 2008 and to the remaining countries in October 2008. During his May 2009 trip to Belgrade, Vice President Biden clearly stated that the United States and Serbia have "agreed to disagree" over Kosovo's status.

The Serbian government under Prime Minister Kostunica engineered a policy of full ethnic separation in Kosovo, physically intimidating local Serbs into abandoning jobs in Kosovo's once multi-ethnic police force and municipal administrations. Serbia held its own illegal municipal elections in Kosovo despite warnings from the UN that such a move violated UNSCR 1244 and moved rapidly to emplace parallel institutions in Serb-majority areas throughout Kosovo. Serbia also backed open violence by the thuggish and criminalized Serb leadership in Kosovo's north, which ordered the destruction of two northern border gates and the subsequent March 17, 2008 attack on UN and KFOR peacekeepers.

In October 2008, Serbia requested an International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory opinion on the legality of Kosovos declaration of independence. Written briefs were presented by 36 countries in April 2009 and by 14 countries in July 2009, with oral statements offered in December 2009. The ICJ released the advisory opinion on July 22, 2010, affirming that Kosovos declaration of independence did not violate general principles of international law, UN Security Council Resolution 1244, or the Constitutive Framework. The opinion was closely tailored to Kosovos unique history and circumstances.

The need to deal with the flow of problems stemming from Belgrade's policy opened the Kosovo leadership to venomous opposition accusations that the government is not doing enough to establish its own authority in response to these Serbian moves, particularly in Kosovo's north, and it distracts from the real requirements of responsible governance in Kosovo -- expanding economic growth, eliminating corruption, and enhancing the transparency and effectiveness of major social institutions. Indeed, the north has become a proxy battleground for two differing visions of the region's future: for Serbs and for Belgrade, it represents that part of Kosovo most likely to be retained by Serbia in a partition scenario as a precursor to Serbia's accession into the EU, while for ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, retention of the north remains the symbolic key to proving Kosovo's legitimate sovereignty.

Eighty-four nations had recognized Kosovo as of October 2011. Serbia rejected its former province's independence, and the Serbian Government challenged the legality of Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which issued an advisory opinion in July 2010 stating that Kosovo's declaration of independence was in accordance with international law and did not violate UN Security Council Resolution 1244. Following the ICJ advisory opinion, Serbia agreed to engage in an EU-facilitated dialogue with Kosovo on practical issues, which began in Brussels in March 2011.

Serbia and Kosovo met several times in 2011 under the auspices of the EU-facilitated dialogue, reaching tentative agreements on several outstanding technical issues. This progress was mitigated by Serbia's rejection of a customs stamp agreement in July, which resulted in the imposition by Kosovo of a reciprocal embargo on trade with Serbia. After a spike in tensions over the summer, during which Kosovo deployed its police to the two border crossings with Serbia in northern Kosovo, agreement on a customs stamp was reached at a session of the dialogue in early September. This agreement also stipulated that both countries would lift their mutual trade embargoes. It did not impact the presence of Kosovo officials at the two northern crossings, who remained in place.

Serbia will never recognize the independence of Kosovo and calls on the international community to accept the reality- that without an equal treatment of all those who live in the province and without condemnation of all crimes and perpetrators, there can be no reconciliation and progress, the Serbian government's Office for Kosovo announced on February 17, 2013, Serbia has not and will not recognize the so-called independence of Kosovo. Anything that was built on injustice cannot rule in line with the law, reads the release issued on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the declaration of Kosovo's independence.

Since 2011, the European Union (EU) has facilitated a dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo on practical issues to improve the lives of citizens and advance them in their European perspectives, a process which the United States supports. On April 19, 2013, the Governments of Kosovo and Serbia concluded a landmark first agreement on normalization of relations, which affirms the primacy of Kosovos legal and institutional framework throughout Kosovos territory, and provides the basis for substantial local self-governance in Kosovos majority Serb north. The EU continues to facilitate talks on implementing the agreement, and on related normalization issues. On June 28, 2013, EU Member States decided to open negotiations with Kosovo on a Stabilization and Association Agreement, a key step on the path to membership in the European Union.

According to Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic on 09 September 2013, Serbia would never recognize Kosovo, and that she responded that the EU knew that and no one was asking Serbia to recognize Kosovo. There is an open communication with the provisional institutions in Pristina, and there are two points of view, the Serbian one that sees Kosovo as a substantial autonomy and the other that Kosovo is independent, he said. Nikolic said that Serbia would never abandon the Serbs in northern Kosovo. Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said that Belgrade and Pristina should continue the dialogue on all topics of interest, and not only on those that are being imposed by others, but specified that further dialogue does not mean that the agreement is heading in a direction of some legally-binding document or recognition of Kosovo's independence.

Serbia needs to cooperate fully with EULEX, the EU's rule of law mission in Kosovo; engage on practical humanitarian issues, such as property rights, return of displaced people, and employment issues; end its unregulated, non-transparent funding of Serb parallel institutions in Kosovo; remove the Kosovo Serb hardliners who are organizing violent protests; and end its embargo on Kosovo's exports.

Kosovo leaders have taken the high road and largely ignored the seemingly endless provocations lobbed their way by successive regimes in Serbia: violence in Kosovo's north sanctioned by Belgrade, the destruction of customs operations on the border with Serbia, Serbian support for parallel governing institutions and parallel elections, the continuing refusal of Belgrade to permit Kosovo Serb participation in multi-ethnic municipal administrations or in Kosovo's police and security forces, a Serbian trade embargo on Kosovo's exports, the insistence on raising a case against Kosovo's declaration of independence in the International Court of Justice, and efforts by Belgrade to target prominent Kosovo figures for prosecution in Serbia and extradition from any Western country where they may travel. Though the pro-Western government of Serbian President Boris Tadic was an improvement on its predecessor in many ways, the general parameters of Serbia's Kosovo policy remained unchanged under the single-minded focus of Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic and his Foreign Ministry cohort.

Land SwapBy 2018 the two countries were led by former enemies: Aleksandar Vucic was the Serbian information minister during the Kosovo War, while Hashim Thaci was the leading warlord of the Kosovo-Albanian militia UCK. Shpetim Gashi of the Council for Inclusive Governance in Pristina said "... they are the products of a conflict and remain in power because of this conflict. They create a conflict in the morning, in order to have something to resolve in the afternoon".

The sanctity of state borders is a jewel in the crown of European state law. Serbia and Kosovo are gearing to redefine their borders amicably between themselves. On 04 August 2018, Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci said "Kosovo's border with Serbia needs to be redefined, or corrected," in an interview with VOA's Albanian Service. "In the process of our future dialogue with Belgrade, we will work together with the international community to define the Kosovo-Serbia border," he said. "I want to emphasize that Kosovo will not be divided; I want to forcefully stress it. Belgrade cannot bring to the table the division of Kosovo, a thing that they have asked for in the past."

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said in early August that he favored having Kosovo partitioned along ethnic lines as a means of avoiding further conflicts. Vucic's plan had been supported by the heads of Kosovo's 10 Serb-majority municipalities but criticized by the Serbian opposition.

Pristina could be given the Presovo Valley, a predominantly Albanian area in southern Serbia. In return, Serbia would claim northern Kosovo, home to almost 45,000 Serbs. But the ethnic makeup of the population is not the only factor at play in the territory swap. It is also about resources and cultural monuments. Economic interests motivate both sides, but the presumable loss of Orthodox churches and monasteries also fuels nationalistic sentiment among Serbs. Kosovo with its legendary battleground, the Kosovo field is regarded as the "cradle of Serbian culture."

The partition has also been opposed by the United Kingdom and Germany, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejecting any changes to borders in the Balkans. The European Union, in particular the United Kingdom and Germany, could eventually accept the partition of Kosovo as a last-resort solution to the conflict if Belgrade and Pristina agree to it, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said on 19 September 2018. "The United Kingdom and Germany advocate for the inviolability of borders, but if an agreement is reached and if it becomes the only possible solution, I have no doubt that it [the deal] will be accepted. And the great EU, which mediates the [Pristina-Belgrade] dialogue, will accept it," Dacic said.





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