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news 06 Feb 13

Kosovo and Serbia Presidents Due For Historic Meet

The Presidents of Kosovo and Serbia will sit down at the same table on Wednesday for the first time since Kosovo declared independence in 2008 in order to "normalise" relations.

Bojana Barlovac BIRN Belgrade

Atifete Jahjaga and Tomislav Nikolic are to meet Catherine Ashton, EU Foreign Policy Chief, in Brussels on Wednesday to symbolically back the ongoing dialogue between the two sides.

"The meeting is another step towards normalising relations between the two countries and a sign of reconciliation," a diplomatic source told Balkan Insight.

The meeting is due to start at 4pm. Ashton will first have separate meetings with Nikolic and Jahjaga.

The EU High Representative will then make a short statement and assessment of the meeting.

Ahead of the trip, Nikolic told the Serbian news agency Tanjug that his meeting with Jahjaga could not be a protocol meeting, although it had been planned as such.

"This is an opportunity for Mrs Jahjaga to hear something she perhaps does not like to hear, to finally hear directly, and not through the media, that Serbia has its own resolution, which it adopted based on the platform, and that no one who represents Serbia can stray from it and no one who represents Serbia wishes to stray from it," Nikolic said.

In January, Serbia adopted a resolution on Kosovo, saying that while Serbia will never recognize Kosovo's independence, proclaimed in 2008, EU-led Belgrade-Pristina talks should continue.

The resolution was adopted along with a "platform", which demands a high level of territorial and political autonomy for Serbian municipalities throughout Kosovo.

At a meeting with the US Vice President Joe Biden at the sidelines of an international security conference in Munich on Sunday, Jahjaga again expressed her readiness to meet Nikolic.

"We are committed to the [EU talks] process, being deeply convinced that we should not leave the animosities of the past to future generations," the President said.

The meeting of Jahjaga and Nikolic takes place on the 14 anniversary since the beginning of the International Conference on the Kosovo crisis at Rambouillet, near Paris.

The joint meeting is seen as historic given that Serbia bitterly opposes Kosovo's independence, proclaimed in 2008, and has boycotted any events where Kosovo officials were represented under the name of "Kosovo".

The two countries started EU-led talks in March 2011 and have reached several agreements so far. In October, the talks were raised to a higher level when the Kosovo and Serbia Prime Ministers, Hashim Thaci and Ivica Dacic, met in Brussels for the first time.

Krstimir Pantic, a leader of the Kosovo Serbs and Deputy Director of the Serbian Government Office for Kosovo, said the meeting will mark a new era in relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

"President Nikolic has showed courage and willingness to discuss all outstanding issues with representatives of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo," Pantic said on Monday.

The meeting is seen as especially important in the light of the two countries' progress towards EU membership. Normalisation of mutual relations is a precondition for the EU integration progress.  

Kosovo is hoping to see visas scrapped for travel to the EU Schengen-zone countries, and sign a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, SAA, with the EU - the first step towards eventual membership.

Serbia meanwhile is awaiting a start date for EU accession talks.

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