PRISTINA Independent Kosovo's first envoy to Serbia resigned on Wednesday, pre-empting his dismissal just two days into the job for exceeding his powers and making remarks likely to irritate Belgrade.
Serbia and its former southern province exchanged official representatives, known officially as liaison officers, on Monday under a push by the European Union to improve ties between the Balkan neighbors five years after Kosovo declared independence.
The rapprochement is key to Serbia's bid to start membership talks with the 27-nation EU, which is due to make a decision on opening negotiations on June 28. In acting fast, and quickly naming a replacement, Kosovo appeared to signal that it did not want the incident to damage these reconciliation efforts.
The envoy, Lulzim Peci, wrote to the president saying he had resigned after Prime Minister Hashim Thaci criticized remarks he made on taking up the job.
Peci had said Kosovo and Serbia would only enjoy normal relations when Belgrade recognized Kosovo's independence - a longstanding bone of contention that the two sides have agreed not to force for now.
"The reasons for my resignation are the disagreements and the criticism by PM Hashim Thaci towards me," Peci wrote.
Thaci's criticism was not made public, but Kosovo's Foreign Ministry said Peci had already been told he was to be sacked.
"Unauthorized meetings with representatives of the Serbian state (and the expression of) personal political views exceeding his powers, as well as other aspects of his behavior relating to state security that cannot be made public at present, did not make him the right representative of the Republic of Kosovo," the ministry said in a statement.
Peci was not available for comment. The government announced that Valdet Sadiku, currently ambassador to Croatia, would replace him.
The job of the liaison officers is to help implement a landmark accord brokered by the EU in April, under which Serbia will cede its control over a small Serb-populated pocket of northern Kosovo. Kosovo is 90-percent ethnic Albanian.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Matt Robinson and Kevin Liffey)