By Perparim Isufi and Gordana Andric
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci came under fire from his political opponents after he said on Wednesday that the ongoing Belgrade-Pristina dialogue will include talks on “the correction of borders” – a phrase which his critics claimed actually meant the exchange of land and the partition of Kosovo.
Thaci said the talks should also cover the unification with Kosovo of the Presevo Valley, a southern Serbian region with a majority ethnic Albanian population.
“Only unified can we achieve our objectives: mutual recognition between Kosovo and Serbia, a UN seat and membership in all other international organisations,” he wrote on Facebook.
“Serbia’s claim for Kosovo’s partition will always be unacceptable, but during the process of the correction of borders, the just request of the Presevo Valley to unify with Kosovo should be addressed during the dialogue,” Thaci added.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, which Belgrade has refused to recognise. EU-mediated talks on normalisation of relations were launched in Brussels in 2011. Since June, both sides have stated that the talks are entering the final stage.
As BIRN has previously reported, talk of an exchange of territories – swapping Albanian-majority areas in southern Serbia for Serb-majority ones in northern Kosovo – has again arisen among some Serbian and Kosovo politicians, although it has never been an official topic of duscission during the official Pristina-Belgrade dialogue in Brussels.
In March, Thaci said in an interview with BIRN’s TV show ‘Jeta ne Kosove’ that Serbian officials in the past had put the question of the division of Kosovo on the table, which he said he always refused to discuss.
The idea is controversial in both Kosovo and Serbia, and Kosovo politicians, including Thaci, have dismissed the idea as unacceptable.
In Serbia, one of the most vocal critics of partition of Kosovo and exchange of territories is highly influential Serbian Orthodox Church.
But after Thaci’s Facebook statement about “the correction of borders”, Kosovo opposition MP Ilir Deda said the president was simply using different words for partition to make it more acceptable for public consumption.
“There has been no president in Kosovo who so easily and lightly has contested the borders of his own state, which he should protect according to his oath,” Deda said.
“It should be clear to anybody that ‘correction of borders’ is a euphemism for the partition of Kosovo and nothing else,” Deda said on Wednesday afternoon.
On Tuesday, Thaci also insisted that there will be no talks on the partition of Kosovo as part of a final settlement with Serbia, calling such reports “fake news.”
“I am here today as president of the country to reassure the citizens of Kosovo that there is no force that can make Kosovo discuss, let alone agree, to its partition. I can assure you with all my institutional responsibilities that partition of Kosovo will not even be discussed,” he said.
At the same press conference, however, he also said that Kosovo will discuss its borders with Serbia, explaining that it has done the same with other countries, including Montenegro, with which it recently signed a border demarcation deal.
Meanhwile Ragmi Mustafa, the head of Democratic Party of Albanians, an ethnic Albanian political party in southern Serbia, spoke in similar terms on Wednesday.
“It is normal that we asked to join Kosovo, but it is not about the exchange of territories, but about a new border demarcation during which Kosovo and Serbia will, through new permanent deal, resolve their issues in best possible way,” Mustafa told Serbian news agency Beta.
The US ambassador to Kosovo, Greg Delawie, also recently sparked concerns that the US might endorse Kosovo’s partition after declining to rule it out in an interview with Kosovo’s KTV in late July.
Asked what the US stand on partition was, Delawie replied that Kosovo would have to agree on whatever the final deal with Serbia will be.
“I’m not going to get at what could be the elements of a deal, of an agreement, at this point… I can say that Kosovo politicians, Kosovo citizens, are fully capable of making these decisions on the negotiating positions themselves, and the United States will be standing by them as they talk about these things,” Delawie said.