EU says Serbia and Kosovo agree to ease travel restrictions

The EU brokered a deal between Serbia and Kosovo to ease travel restrictions, eliminating an issue that had sparked tensions in the Western Balkans, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Saturday.

“We have a deal,” Borrell wrote on Twitter. “As part of the EU-facilitated dialogue, Serbia has agreed to abolish entry/exit documents for Kosovo ID card holders and Kosovo has agreed not to introduce them for Kosovo ID card holders. a Serbian identity card.”

The move is symbolic progress in the decades-long dispute over Kosovo’s statehood and the coexistence of Albanians and Serbs despite diplomatic offensives by the US and EU.

The former Yugoslav province of Kosovo fought a brief war of independence that culminated in NATO airstrikes on Belgrade in 1999 amid international fears that Serbia was engaging in ethnic cleansing of Albanians from the region, of which they represent a significant majority of the population.

For years under international protection, Pristina unilaterally separated from Belgrade in 2008. More than 100 nations recognized its independence, but Serbia refused to accept it, as did several EU and NATO countries , including Spain, Greece and Romania.

Top US and European envoys toured the region this week after talks in Brussels broke down earlier this month to resolve tensions over Pristina’s decision to require special entry and exit documents in plus Serbian identification documents, unless Serbia lifts a similar measure for Kosovars.

The EU and the United States acted in concert by exerting pressure on both the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, and the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vučić.

Kurti confirmed the deal in a Facebook post on Saturday.

“Thank you all for your support and patience, especially over the past four weeks,” he wrote. “The spirit of the principle and equality talks in Brussels is reciprocity. Standardization solutions should have reciprocity inside, because good neighborly relations imply it.

Vučić did not immediately comment.

“I thank [US state department deputy assistant secretary Gabriel] Escobar and US diplomacy for their strong commitment to EU-facilitated dialogue,” EU chief negotiator Miroslav Lajčák said in a Twitter post.

Pristina has banked on its pro-Western credentials to push for quick NATO and EU membership amid the war in Ukraine, while likening it to Serbia’s traditional closeness to Russia. Belgrade dismissed this as diplomatic posturing.

But membership is conditional on the normalization of relations with Serbia, which has been a candidate for EU membership for years.

Vučić said he expected an agreement on identity documents, adding that he would defend the interests of ethnic Serbs who live in Kosovo but reject Pristina’s authority. Prominent Serbian politicians have refused to give ground on Kosovo, often calling the country “our province”.

Members of the Serbian community in northern Kosovo erected barricades and watched police as Pristina first introduced entry and exit document rules. Shots were fired without causing any injuries. Kosovo extended the deadline for the application of the rules on documents by one month until September 1, but insisted on equal treatment of citizens of the two countries.

“Kosovo Serbs, as well as all other citizens, will be able to travel freely between Kosovo and Serbia using their identity cards. The EU has just received guarantees from Prime Minister Kurti to this end,” Borrell wrote. “It is a European solution. We congratulate both leaders.

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