Border clash “diverts from real Kosovo issues”

by Etienne Strebel, swissinfo.ch

A Swiss expert on the Balkans tells swissinfo.ch that an agreement to put an end to a border dispute between Serbia and Kosovo is shaky.

Andreas Ernst, a journalist with the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper, believes a more durable and far-reaching solution is needed than the one for Serbia to remove roadblocks in Kosovo’s Serb-run north .

The deal was brokered by Nato on Wednesday in a bid to end over a week of clashes and heightened tension. The reopening of the border posts will allow for shipments of food and humanitarian goods from Serbia. Nato peacekeepers will continue to man the checkpoints throughout mid-September.

swissinfo.ch: The border conflict continues despite international mediation.
Andreas Ernst: The border conflict is in reality a territorial dispute. For the majority of [Kosovo’s] population, which is Albanian-speaking, with 90 per cent living in the south of the country, the conflict is in principle resolved. But it’s different for the ten per cent in the northern corner. Here 97 per cent of the local population is Serb, feel like Serbs and see this region as part of Serbia.

swissinfo.ch: Does the international community have a solution at hand?
A. E.: No, because it is divided on this issue. Within the European Union 22 countries have recognised Kosovo, and five haven’t. So there is no common EU position. And because not all Nato states have recognised Kosovo, the same goes for the military alliance which provides the majority of troops for Kosovo.

And in the United Nations Security Council, Russia and China oppose independence. Of the 192 UN member states, only 75 recognise Kosovo.

swissinfo.ch: On the surface, it’s a customs conflict. Can you compare the area north of Mitrovica with the tax-free zone in the eastern Swiss resort of Samnaun?
A. E.: To a certain extent, yes. It’s almost a tax-free zone, where goods from Serbia are imported without duties being levied. For some time goods were controlled by Kosovan Serb policemen, with support from Eulex [EU] customs officials.

Taxes, if any, were first levied when the goods reached south Mitrovica [Albanian part of the town], the de facto border where Kosovan sovereignty begins.

swissinfo.ch: What would happen if this northern zone were handed over to Serbia and and in exchange, Serbia gave control of a different area to Kosovo?
A. E.: One possibility would be a territorial compromise whereby this northern corner would go to Serbia – or from a Serb perspective remain Serb – and in exchange Kosovo would receive two or three villages in southern Serbia that lie directly on the Kosovo border.

This solution, privately favoured by many Albanian-speaking Kosovars and Serbs, is controversial in the international community because of fears that partitioning along ethnic lines would continue throughout the Balkans

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Categories: Europe, Switzerland

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