BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia needs to continue talks with Kosovo on normalizing ties under the latest international peace plan to pursue a path towards European Union membership, President Aleksandar Vucic told parliament on Thursday.
Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, a decade after a guerrilla uprising against Belgrade’s repressive regime. For the past decade, the two have been holding normalization talks mediated by the EU, with a successful outcome key to realizing their aspirations to join the rich bloc.
Last month, envoys from the EU, the US, Germany, France and Italy met with the leaders of both countries to try to convince them to sign an 11-point deal aimed at defusing lingering tensions since the 1998 conflict. -1999.
Vucic told parliament that the envoys warned that if Serbia did not accept the proposal, its EU membership talks would be halted and access to pre-accession funds and investments would be denied.
“EU membership is of vital interest to us. One cannot function without allies,” Vucic told a special parliamentary session to discuss the plan on Thursday.
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“We are surrounded by NATO member countries and NATO troops are in the neighboring countries (Bosnia and Kosovo). Which side should we take at the time of the conflict?”
Vucic’s statement showed that Belgrade is distancing itself from its traditional ally Russia, which has vetoed Kosovo’s membership in the United Nations.
Western diplomats have often criticized Serbia for its close ties with Russia and Belgrade’s refusal to join EU sanctions against Moscow.
Under the international plan, the two countries would have to open representative offices in each other’s capitals and work to resolve outstanding issues.
Serbia would also not be required to recognize the independence of its former province, but it would have to stop lobbying against Kosovo’s membership in international bodies.
Vucic said that while the current plan offers little advantage to Serbia, the talks must continue.
“It’s not about what we win, it’s about what we’ll lose,” he said.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Ben Dangerfield)
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