By Bojana Barlovac
Belgrade and Pristina are set to commence direct talks in Brussels on Tuesday, the first such dialogue since Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008.
Under the aegis of the EU, the two sides will focus on solving practical problems and improving the everyday life of people living in Kosovo, and will avoid the big questions such as status and official apologies.
The precise agenda, however, has still not been made public, with negotiators from both sides citing missing persons, telecommunications, land, and aviation as potential topics.
While the international community has repeated many times that Kosovo’s status is final and not up for negotiation, Serbian officials still hope that the initial so-called light topics will re-open the issue of status at one of the later rounds.
Kosovo, meanwhile, is firm in its stance that talks can only cover technical matters. Speaking at a parliament session in Pristina on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Edita Tahiri, who will lead the Kosovo delegation, said that she would not drop her 20 years of experience in politics by going to Brussels and endangering Kosovo’s independence.
“I am going there to further strengthen the independence and our relations with USA and EU,” said Tahiri.
The Serbian team will be led by Borislav Stefanovic, political director of Serbia’s Foreign Ministry.
The EU has committed itself to facilitating the dialogue, but says it won’t intrude on the content and agenda, which Belgrade and Pristina are expected to agree upon. Senior British diplomat Robert Cooper is the EU facilitator who will chair the meetings based on the agreed agenda.
The first round of talks will last for the two days in Brussels, with officials from all sides saying that the negotiations will continue as long as is necessary.
“The sessions will most likely take place every two or three weeks,” Stefanovic told reporters in Belgrade.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told Serbian daily Politika on Monday that solving problems through dialogue and negotiations is the European way.
“One of the objectives of the negotiations is to bring Pristina and Belgrade closer to Europe,” the daily quoted Ashton as saying.
As both Pristina and Belgrade are keen to join the EU, the bloc has been pushing the two sides to talk since September, after the UN General Assembly adopted its latest resolution on Kosovo, on which the dialogue will be based.
Talks were put on hold, however, as political turmoil worsened in Kosovo following the resignation of President Fatmir Sejdiu and the calling of early elections. The two sides have been waiting for a new government to be formed in Kosovo following December 12 polls, which happened in late February.
The talks come several months after Council of Europe human rights rapporteur Dick Marty released a report alleging that abductions, disappearances, executions, organ trafficking, and other serious crimes were coordinated by leading members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, including current Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.
Some observers expect the harvesting will overshadow the start of talks, with the Serbian delegation expected to insist on an investigation as an immediate priority.
Last month Serbia called on the United Nations to launch an independent probe into whether Kosovo’s prime minister took part in the organ trafficking during the conflict in Kosovo.