Kosovo, Serbia leaders arrive for EU-backed talks on deal to normalise ties

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[March 18, 2023 By Fatos Bytyci
 
OHRID, North Macedonia (Reuters) - Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic arrived in North Macedonia on Saturday for a fresh round of talks with EU officials on implementing a deal to normalise ties between Belgrade and Pristina.  

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti walks, on the day of a meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, in Ohrid, North Macedonia March 18, 2023.REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

The two leaders will hold separate meetings with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell before a three-way session and a news conference expected later in the day.

"I am optimistic," Kurti said ahead of the meetings, taking place in the lakeside town of Ohrid in North Macedonia.

"I came here with a good aim, with a good will and with trust that what was agreed before...will continue here through the talks for the implementation plan, and in this way have a final deal on the normalisation."

Kosovo and Serbia agreed in Brussels last month to a Western-backed deal to normalise relations, following nearly 10 years of EU-mediated dialogue during which little progress was made. However, agreement is still needed on an annex on implementing the plan, which will be the focus of Saturday's discussions.

"The eyes of the EU & the Western Balkans are on Ohrid today," Borrell tweeted.

Serbia's constitution considers Kosovo an integral part of its territory even though it declared independence in 2008. Belgrade and Pristina need to mend bilateral ties for both to achieve their strategic goal of joining the EU.

"I want to caution that we may not have a final agreement," Gabriel Escobar, the senior U.S. diplomat for the Western Balkans who is also attending the Ohrid talks, told Pristina-based RTV21 station.

"We are going to work towards finalising the annex, but I expect a lot of progress."

NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 in response to the expulsion of Kosovo's majority Albanians by Serb forces after which Belgrade lost control of its southern province.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Additional reporting Sabine Siebold and Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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