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World News

EU envoy sees Serbia-Kosovo normalisation deal in months

(This Aug. 31 story corrects para 2 to read “...in 2008...” instead of “in 1999...”)

FILE PHOTO: Slovakia's Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak speaks to the media as he arrives at a European Union foreign ministers emergency meeting to discuss ways to try to save the Iran nuclear deal, in Brussels, Belgium, January 10, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

BLED, Slovenia (Reuters) - EU-mediated negotiations on normalising relations between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo could lead to a deal within months, the EU’s envoy dealing with one of Europe’s toughest territorial disputes said on Monday.

Ethnic Albanian majority Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a NATO-led bombing campaign to curtail ethnic warfare. Serbia, backed by its large Slavic and Orthodox Christian ally Russia, does not recognise Kosovo’s independence, a precondition for Belgrade’s future membership of the EU.

Normalisation negotiations broke down in 2018 but resumed in July after Kosovo lifted stiff import tariffs on Serbian goods.

Asked a deal could be reached, EU envoy Miroslav Lajcak told reporters on the sidelines of a regional conference in Slovenia that it would be a mistake to forecast a date as there were still “very complicated issues to address...

“Let’s see how much time we need but I am speaking about months, I am not speaking about years,” he added. “Both parties are committed, both parties are serious, respecting each other.”

Apart from the EU-brokered diplomatic track, top-level delegations from Serbia and Kosovo will meet in the United States next week to address economic cooperation.

After meeting Lajcak at the conference, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he had presented Serbia’s goals to the EU envoy, above all the implementation of an earlier deal allowing an association of communities grouping Kosovo’s minority Serbs.

“I greatly respect what Lajcak is saying about normalisation..., which is legally and politically different from what Pristina and some others are saying,” the Serbian news agency Tanjug quoted Vucic as saying.

The U.S. talks were previously set for June but delayed after Kosovo President Hashim Thaci was indicted for alleged war crimes during the 1998-99 guerrilla uprising against Serbian rule and its aftermath. He has denied the charges.

Reporting bMarja Novak in Bled, Slovenia with additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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