Serbia has sought to remove another obstacle to its potential EU membership by striking a deal with the ethnic Albanian government in Pristina over the violently disputed border crossings in northern Kosovo.
Brussels, BE – Saturday, December 3, 2011 / The Independent NewsweeK
Kosovo and Serbia agreed on Friday to jointly manage disputed border crossings along their common frontier, improving Belgrade’s chances of gaining candidate status and advancing toward membership in the 27-nation European Union.
The border crossings have been a smoldering source of tension since Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian central government tried to seize the crossings with its security forces in July. Ethnic Serbs, who are predominant in northern Kosovo, retaliated violently and set up roadblocks that cut off the roads to the border crossings.
On Monday, 30 Austrian and German soldiers – part of NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) – were wounded in clashes with ethnic Serbs when the soldiers tried to dismantle the roadblocks. German Chancellor Angela Merkel placed Serbia’s potential EU candidate status in question in the aftermath of the clashes.
Merkel said earlier on Friday that Serbia “stands accused of contributing in recent days to an atmosphere where German peacekeepers in the north of Kosovo have been attacked with guns and wounded,” adding that the incident was “not acceptable.”
The German chancellor went on to say that Serbia could only join the EU “through the normalization of its relations with Kosovo” and that “Serbia has so far not lived up to these expectations sufficiently.”
Long road to Europe
Serbia and Kosovo have agreed to jointly administer their border controls under a new system that will be overseen by the EU’s law mission in Kosovo, EULEX.
“The parties have reached an agreement on the EU-developed concept of integrated management for crossing points,” the Council of the European Union said in a statement. “This means that the parties will gradually set up the joint, integrated, single and secure posts at all their common crossing points.”
The EU is set to vote on whether Serbia should be granted status as a candidate for membership during a summit meeting on December 9. Serbia has stepped up its campaign to join the EU, arresting alleged war criminals such as Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic earlier this year.
Kosovo separated from Serbia in 1999 under cover of a NATO air campaign that was launched to stop alleged war crimes committed by Belgrade against ethnic Albanians. In 2008, Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia. Belgrade still considers Kosovo a Serbian province.
More than 80 countries have now recognized Kosovo as an independent state, including the United States and most members of the European Union.
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