May 26, 2020 / 3:09 PM / 2 months ago

Kosovo president rejects EU mediator for talks with Serbia

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said on Tuesday he would not take part in talks on normalising ties with Serbia led by an European Union special mediator, calling instead for an increased U.S. role in the dialogue.

FILE PHOTO: Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci attends an interview with Reuters in Berlin, Germany, April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after a guerrilla uprising by its ethnic Albanian majority, and agreed to an EU-sponsored dialogue with Belgrade in 2013 to resolve all outstanding issues.

Normalisation is among key conditions the EU has set for admitting Kosovo as a member state, and by Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia, to lift its veto on Kosovo joining the United Nations.

In March, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell appointed Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajcak as special mediator for Kosovo.

But Slovakia is one of five EU member countries - along with Cyprus, Greece, Romania and Spain - that still decline to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

“In front of us we will have two negotiators from the countries that do not recognise Kosovo’s independence,” Thaci told reporters in Pristina, referring to Lajcak and Borrell, a former Spanish foreign minister.

Thaci said he would join any meetings organised by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

“But there is no inclination on my part to participate in a negotiation process that is led by Lajcak,” he said.

Thaci said only the United States, which brokered Bosnia’s peace accord 25 years ago and led NATO’s 1999 air strikes that halted Serbia’s brutal counter-insurgency campaign in Kosovo, could really advance dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia.

More than 110 countries have recognized Kosovo’s statehood including its biggest political and financial backer the United States. President Donald Trump named Richard Grenell, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany, as the U.S. envoy on Kosovo.

Grenell has brokered a deal to resume direct commercial flights and railway traffic between Kosovo and Serbia.

Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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