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News 21 Aug 17

Serbia Pulled Diplomats From Macedonia Over 'Offensive' Actions

Serbian leaders say they withdrew diplomatic staff from Macedonia after receiving intelligence about 'offensive actions' planned against Serbia.

Maja Zivanovic, Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Belgrade, Skopje

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: Beta/Milos Miskov

Aleksandar Vucic, Serbian President, on Monday said Serbian embassy staff were withdrawn from Macedonia after Belgrade obtained “evidence of very offensive intelligence against the institutions of Serbia”.

Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic gave a similar statement to the news agency Tanjug, also citing “offensive actions against the Republic of Serbia.”

Both Vucic and Dacic also said "foreign powers" were also involved, but declined to provide more details.

Dacic told Tanjug that Serbia would take measures to protect its interests in Macedonia and added that next week, after the consultations, part of the diplomatic staff would return to Skopje. The ambassador would return later.

The President and Foreign Minister insisted that Serbia wished to maintain good relations with Skopje, adding, however, that the circumstance had changed in recent months.

“We will continue to develop friendly relations between Belgrade and Skopje. We only want for our people to be prepared and ready to protect the friendship of Serbs and Macedonians, but also for us to know how to act in the different and new environment that we have not been familiar with until a few months ago,” Vucic added.

Macedonia's government stated on Monday evening that Skopje is firmly "committed to resolving rather than producing problems" and to improving cooperation and partnership with its neighbours.

“When it comes to this particular case, without jumping into conclusions, we welcome Belgrade’s announcement that it will protect friendly relations,” the government wrote in a press release.

Late in May, the former ruling party in Macedonia, VMRO-DPMNE, led by Nikola Gruveski, was ousted from power and replaced with the rival Social Democratic Party, led by Zoran Zaev.

Serbia unexpectedly withdrew all its diplomatic staff from Skopje, Macedonia, on Sunday.

Amid reports that Serbia's move followed a Macedonian plan to propose Kosovo's membership of UNESCO, which is seen contrary to Serbia's national interests, Macedonia issued a statement saying that "Macedonia develops friendly relations with all neighbouring countries.

“When there are open and sensitive questions between two of our neighbours, the Macedonian government always follows the interests of the country, based on the principles of good neighbourly relations and improvement of the regional cooperation, neutrality and non-interference in the disputes between countries," the government said earlier on Monday.

Vucic said Belgrade would wait to see whether Kosovo's UNESCO bid was again on the table. “Then we will wait to see what Skopje and Podgorica and many others will say,” Vucic said.

Serbia does not recognise Kosovo's declaration of independence of 2008 and still considers the former province part of its own territory.

Regarding another vote on Kosovo's UNESCO membership, the new Macedonian government added that "it will have in mind the positions of the majority of EU member states".

Most EU member states long ago recognised Kosovo's independence.

NOTE: This article was amended 8.30pm on August 21 to include Macedonian government's statement.

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