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Germany urges Kosovo to drop tariffs on Serbia

FILE PHOTO: German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas delivers his statement, during the Geneva Conference on Afghanistan, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, November 28, 2018. Salvatore Di Nolfi/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Tuesday urged Kosovo to rescind, or at least suspend implementation of 100 percent tariffs that Pristina has slapped on Serbian goods.

Maas, speaking in Paris at a meeting on curbing the spread of small arms from the Balkans, said he also regretted the withdrawal of minority Serbs from government in the northern Kosovo region surrounding Mitrovica.

“A further escalation must be urgently prevented,” Maas said in a prepared text of his remarks. “The successes of the dialogue on normalisation must be preserved.”

Tensions between Kosovo and Serbia have risen in recent months after Belgrade blocked Pristina’s membership in Interpol.

Kosovo last week said it would maintain the 100 percent tariffs it imposed on Serbian goods in November until Belgrade recognises Pristina, defying calls by the European Union and United States for the tariffs to be abolished.

The decision effectively halted trade between the two states, in a move that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said would lead to the destabilisation of the region.

Maas said improved relations would accelerate efforts of Serbia, Kosovo and other Balkan countries to join the European Union. “Instead of thinking about changing borders, Belgrade and Pristina should focus their efforts on a viable agreement that covers all open questions and makes possible a comprehensive normalisation,” he said.

Reporting by Reuters TV and John Irish; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Michelle Martin