Serbian government approves historic deal with Kosovo

AP, BELGRADE

Tue, Apr 23, 2013 - Page 1

The Serbian government yesterday approved a landmark agreement to normalize relations with breakaway Kosovo, but thousands of Kosovo Serb demonstrators rejected the deal, chanting: “Treason, Treason.”

Up to 10,000 flag-waving protesters gathered in the divided northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica, demanding that the EU-brokered agreement be annulled and branding the Serbian officials who endorsed it “traitors.”

Belgarde approved the deal unanimously at an extraordinary session and ordered ministries to implement it, Serbian government spokesman Milivoje Mihajlovic said. The agreement could end years of tensions and put the rivals on a path to EU membership

The prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo reached a tentative EU-mediated deal in Brussels on Friday that would give Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leadership authority over rebel Kosovo Serbs. In return, the minority Serbs would get wide autonomy within Kosovo.

After the Serbian approval, the EU Commission recommended yesterday that the bloc start membership negotiations with Serbia.

Kosovo, which is considered by Serbian nationalists to be the medieval cradle of the Serbian state and religion, declared independence in 2008. Serbia has vowed never to recognize it, and Serbian officials insist that the latest agreement does not mean Belgrade has de facto recognized Kosovo’s statehood.

It is not clear how the deal will be implemented on the ground in northern Kosovo, where hardline Serb leaders vehemently reject any authority coming from Pristina’s ethnic Albanians and consider the region a part of Serbia.

In Mitrovica, hardline Kosovo Serbs said they will prevent the implementation of the agreement and form a self-ruled region.

On Sunday, Kosovo’s parliament voted in favor of a resolution to support the initial agreement. The Serbian parliament is expected to do the same later this week.

However, the influential Serbian Orthodox Church yesterday denounced the deal as a “clear surrender” of “our most important territory,” and urged the country’s lawmakers to reject it.

The church said in a statement that the deal amounts to “indirect and silent, but still de facto recognition” of Kosovo.

The deal let Serbs police and manage the north of Kosovo in exchange for nominal recognition of the authority of the Kosovar government. It also calls for the two sides not to obstruct one another as they seek EU membership.