White House to host new Kosovo, Serbia talks in September

AFP , Friday 14 Aug 2020

US President Donald Trump, the White House August 13, 2020, in Washington, DC. (AFP)

Kosovo and Serbia leaders will meet at the White House next month as Washington renews its effort to tackle their troubled relationship after an earlier summit fell through, officials said Friday.

The former Balkan war foes were supposed to meet in the US in June but the talks were aborted after Kosovo President Hashim Thaci cancelled his trip to face an indictment from special prosecutors in The Hague for war crimes linked to the late 1990s conflict.

More than 20 years after that war, the neighbours still have a tense relationship, with Serbia refusing to recognise the independence that Kosovo, a former province home to an ethnic Albanian majority, declared in 2008.

While Brussels has been leading negotiations between the two sides for nearly a decade, the US has recently sought a more publicly active role under Richard Grenell, a special envoy appointed by President Donald Trump.

"We are happy to announce that the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia will meet at the White House for a negotiation on September 2," Grenell wrote on Twitter.

Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti confirmed his attendance and said the summit would focus on "major projects that will change the economic perspective of Kosovo and the region".

Speaking on television, Serbian President Vucic also said his side would "take part in the talks and the topics will be related to the economy."

Grenell, a former ambassador to Berlin who has ruffled feathers in Europe with his brash and blunt style, has previously faced accusations of complicating the EU-led process to bring Belgrade and Pristina to an accord.

He denies this and says Washington is focused on boosting economic links to improve relations between the neighbours.

The EU dialogue recently resumed in July following a nearly two-year stalemate triggered by a trade war.

Another meeting is expected in September.

President Thaci, meanwhile, is out of the game as a pre-trial judge in The Hauge weighs the war crimes indictment filed against him.

The accusations are linked to Thaci's role as the political head of the guerillas who led Kosovo's separatist war against Serbia in 1998-99.

More than 13,000 died in the conflict, mainly Kosovo Albanians.

But Kosovo rebels were also accused of reprisals on Serbs and fellow Albanians during and after the conflict.

The war ended after NATO intervened to bomb Serb troops, forcing them to withdraw.

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