PRISTINA, Kosovo — Kosovo’s prime minister said Wednesday that creating an association of the country’s five Serb-majority municipalities was not a priority for his Cabinet even though the U.S. has argued the issue is important to an eventual normalization of ties between Kosovo and Serbia.
Prime Minister Albin Kurti repeated concerns that such an organization could evolve into a ministate and said resuming European Union-led negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo would be more productive.
“A monoethnic association in a multiethnic Kosovo is not possible,” Kurti told journalists.
Washington has increased pressure on Pristina to implement a 2013 agreement to establish the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities, which would coordinate work on education, health care, land planning and economic development at the local level. Kosovo’s Constitutional Court later declared the plan unconstitutional, ruling it wasn’t inclusive of other ethnicities and could entail the use of executive powers.
Diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Pristina met this week with a group of civil society leaders, government officials and political leaders to discuss the steps Kosovo’s government needs to take to authorize the association. U.S. and European Union envoy s also visited Kosovo and Serbia last month to encourage the two countries to accept a new proposal for normalizing their relations and furthering their candidacies for EU membership.
The proposal’s details haven’t yet been made public.
U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Jeff Hovenier sought to address the concerns of Kurti’s government by reiterating that Washington opposed setting up the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities, or ASM, to resemble Republika Srpska, one of two political entities in Bosnia with broad governing authority.
Kurti remained skeptical, asserting that while Serbia has recognized Bosnia’s statehood de jure, “de facto it sabotages it everyday.”
“Let’s discuss it, listen to everyone,” he said of the renewed push to create the ASM. “But you cannot ask from the prime minister of the republic to violate the people’s will and state interests.”
Kurti said Wednesday that Kosovo and Serbia have signed 33 agreements during 12 years of EU-mediated negotiations and all “are equal; you can’t pick up one they like as a priority.”
He mentioned the barricades ethnic Serbs erected in northern Kosovo in December to protest the arrest of a Serb police officer. The barricades were removed only after mediation by Washington and Brussels.
Serbia fought a 1998-99 war with ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo, which at the time was a Serbian province. A NATO intervention that forced Serbia to pull out of the territory ended the war, but tensions over Kosovo’s status remains a source of instability in the Balkans.
In 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, which Belgrade has refused to recognize, supported by Russia and China. The U.S. and most EU nations have recognized Kosovo as a sovereign nation.
Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.