August 23, 2017 / 12:52 PM / 10 months ago

Serbia and Macedonia agree to mend ties after embassy pullout

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia and Macedonia agreed to mend ties on Wednesday, two days after Belgrade pulled its embassy staff out of Skopje to protest “offensive actions” by its southern neighbor.

FILE PHOTO: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic talks during a news conference where he nominates Ana Brnabic as the country's new Prime Minister in Belgrade, Serbia, June 15, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

In a joint statement after a telephone conversation between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, the two leaders said they had agreed to a dialogue to solve outstanding issues.

“Regardless of political differences over certain important political and regional matters, Serbia and Macedonia will jointly strive not only to preserve, but to improve friendly relations,” it said.

On Tuesday, Vucic said Serbia’s consular staff would resume work in Macedonia next week and the ambassador would return in September.

Earlier this week, the Serbian embassy staff were withdrawn because of what Vucic called “offensive actions” against Serbia’s institutions, something Macedonian authorities denied .

FILE PHOTO: Zoran Zaev speaks in the parliament in Skopje, Macedonia June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

The withdrawal coincided with reports that Skopje was joining diplomatic efforts to secure Kosovo’s membership in the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO.

Kosovo, a former Serbian province, became independent in 2008. Nine years before, NATO air strikes had ousted Serb security forces and ended a two-year crackdown on ethnic Albanians.

Kosovo is recognized by 114 countries, including Macedonia and 23 European Union members. But Serbia’s allies, Russia and China, are still blocking its full membership of the United Nations and its agencies.

On Monday, the Macedonian government said it would take into account the position of a majority of EU members in the vote over Kosovo’s UNESCO membership. Nearly a third of Macedonia’s population of 2.1 million is ethnic Albanian.

Maintaining good relations with neighbors is a key requirement for the six Western Balkan states, including Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia, to make progress towards desired EU membership.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Larry King

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