The leaders of Kosovo and Serbia made a joint commitment on May 2 to work together to locate people who went missing during the 1998-99 war in Kosovo.
The agreement was reached during a high-level meeting in Brussels, which was mediated by the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell. It comes in the context of efforts to normalise relations between the two states.
This was the first high-level meeting between Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovan Prime Minister Albin Kurti since they met in Ohrid, North Macedonia on March 18, where they agreed to implement the agreement that will lead to normalisation of their relations.
At the meeting, the two leaders agreed on joint work to locate burial sites related to the Kosovo war in order to identify the remains of those still missing since the conflict, a statement from the European Union External Action Service (EEAS) said. Both sides have agreed to share classified documents and use satellite data and other technologies to locate suspected mass graves.
Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, unilaterally declared independence in 2008, following the bloody war for independence. Belgrade still refuses to recognise Kosovo as a separate state, which is the ultimate goal of the Kosovan authorities.
Over 13,000 people lost their lives during the war, leaving 1,621 people still missing, with the majority of those killed and still missing being ethnic Albanians.
The issue of missing persons has been a major obstacle in the process of normalising relations between the two countries.
A joint declaration from Vucic and Kurti emphasised “the importance of resolving the fate of the remaining Missing Persons to bring closure to the suffering of their loved ones and to foster lasting reconciliation and peace”.
“Under EU Facilitation, President @predsednikrs [Aleksandar Vucic] & Prime Minister @albinkurti affirmed commitment to resolve outstanding cases of Missing Persons and treat this as humanitarian issue. They agreed there is urgent need for renewed joint efforts to alleviate suffering of families,” wrote Borrell on Twitter following the meeting.
“I commend the leaders on endorsing a joint declaration and agreeing to advance cooperation under existing @ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross]-led mechanisms to ensure full implementation of their respective commitments,” he added.
The operational details of the agreement will be agreed upon at the next meeting of the EU-mediated dialogue on the normalisation of relations between the two sides.
It is unclear whether progress was made on another outstanding issue, the formation of the Association of Serb Municipalities (ASM) within northern Kosovo, where the population is majority Serb.
It was reported previously that the meeting was expected to focus on the formation of the ASM, a priority for the Serbian side.
The latest meeting between Vucic and Kurti took place shortly after local elections in northern Kosovo that were boycotted by Serbs. The boycott raised concerns about the legitimacy of the election results, and the impact on the future relations between Belgrade and Pristina.
Tensions were also elevated at the end of April when Council of Europe members voted to admit Kosovo. Serbia has sought to minimise the number of countries that recognise Kosovo’s independence and keep Kosovo out of international organisations.