US not against territory swap between Serbia and Kosovo

US not against territory swap between Serbia and Kosovo
By bne IntelliNews August 27, 2018

US national security advisor John R. Bolton said on August 24 that Washington would not oppose a territorial swap between Kosovo and Serbia as part of an agreement on the normalisation of relations between the two countries.

Officials from both sides have talked recently about adjusting the border between Serbia and Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Belgrade in 2008, as they appear to be edging closer to a deal. However, this has met with opposition both within the two countries and from external actors such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

Lately Kosovan President Hashim Thaci has raised the idea of a “border correction” with Serbia, which he indicated would mean taking the southern Presevo valley from Serbia. Meanwhile, Serbian politicians have floated the idea of a potential exchange of territories along the shared border, with Serbia giving Kosovo mostly Albanian populated villages along the administrative line, and Kosovo giving Serbia four northern municipalities where mostly Serbs live.

“I think there are new signs that both governments very quietly may be willing to negotiate on this,” Bolton was cited by newswires as saying at a news conference in Kyiv. 

“The US policy is that if the two parties can work it out between themselves and reach agreement, we don’t exclude territorial adjustments. It’s really not for us to say,” Bolton was quoted.

The US advisor’s viewpoint is contrary to that of Merkel, who instantly rejected the idea of a territorial swap, warning that it might destabilise the region in the long term.

However, Bolton said he didn’t believe anyone in Europe would stand in the way of a territorial swap as part of a deal, as long as it was a mutually satisfactory one.

Similarly to Bolton, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said on August 26 that the EU should accept an agreement between Serbs and Kosovars with the aim of solving their long-standing dispute, international media reported. Hahn’s statement was aimed at dispelling fears that any redrawing of the borders might destabilise the Balkan region.

“It’s about a bilateral solution which should not serve as a blueprint for other issues,” Hahn said at a news conference in Austria.

Earlier in August more than two dozen civil society organisations in Serbia and Kosovo sent a joint letter to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warning that the swap of territories between Serbia and Kosovo on the basis of ethnicity would destabilise the whole Balkan region.

Kosovo is still not recognised by Belgrade as an independent state. The normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina is critical for the two countries’ EU integration processes.

A crucial meeting between Thaci and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is due to take place in early September in Brussels, as part of the final dialogue on the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, when the idea of redrawing borders is expected to be raised.

The Kosovan opposition does not support the idea and will not participate in the final round of talks with Serbia.

The leader of Kosovo's opposition Vetevendosje party Albin Kurti accused the government of “selling out national interests” by offering concessions to Serbia and has called for early elections. Kurti added that if no elections are held in the autumn, the opposition will stage mass protests.

The border between Kosovo and Serbia is not officially marked due to the unresolved dispute between the two countries. When the idea of “redrawing borders” was floated, Kosovan Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj asked the state border commission to start working on officially marking the border between the two countries.