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Brussels summit. VOA: NATO and the EU pledge to maintain stability in the Western Balkans
Written by SOT.COM.AL 28 Nëntor 2023
NATO Foreign Ministers are discussing the tensions in the Western Balkans, amid calls for increasing the alliance's military presence due to concerns that the unresolved situation between Kosovo and Serbia could increase instability in the region.
A gun battle between Kosovo police and a group of armed Serbs in September in the north fueled concern in Western countries that Russia may be trying to foment conflict in the Balkans to deflect attention from its aggression in Ukraine.
The Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, reiterated on the eve of the beginning of the meeting of Foreign Ministers that the alliance will consider increasing its long-term presence in the region.
"Be sure that NATO will do everything necessary to support and ensure stability in the region, because this is important not only for the Western Balkans, but also for all of Europe and NATO," said Secretary Stoltenberg, who, together with the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, emphasized stability in the Balkans.
Before Secretary Blinken's trip to Brussels, the US Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, James O'Brien, warned Kosovo and Serbia that "causing unrest in the north of Kosovo means confrontation with NATO".
Shortly after the attack by the armed group, the White House demanded from Serbia the immediate withdrawal of Serbian forces from the border with Kosovo after they noticed an increased presence along the border, which included artillery and mechanized military units.
Kosovo demands that Serbia withdraw troops from its border, Belgrade denies that there is a build-up
Belgrade reacted by reducing the presence of military forces from the border, while NATO reinforced its peacekeeping force in Kosovo with 1,000 additional troops, the reinforcement of chief of KFOR after the declaration of independence.
The situation in the Western Balkans was part of the discussions of the head of the European Union's foreign policy, Josep Borrell, with NATO ministers. Mr. Borrell said that the stability, progress and harmonization of the foreign policy of the countries of the region with the EU is of fundamental importance.
"Let me emphasize the importance of cooperation between the EU and NATO in the north of Kosovo. Our EULEX mission is positioned and has a strong cooperation with KFOR and they are facing difficult times. We will continue to ensure stability and provide security in this part of Kosovo and on the border with Serbia", Mr. Borrell said in a press conference before the meeting.
The American mission to NATO meanwhile wrote on the X network, known until recently as Twitter, that the alliance "is taking careful steps to ensure that KFOR has the necessary forces to fulfill its mandate defined by the United Nations in a manner unbiased. The UN Security Council gave a mandate to NATO Forces in Kosovo in 1999 for an impartial peacekeeping mission. KFOR continues to support the development of an inclusive, democratic and multi-ethnic Kosovo".
German Foreign Minister Annalena Bearbock said that in the Western Balkans, "peace often hangs in the balance", while warning that Germany will send 150 additional troops next year, who will serve as part of KFOR in Kosovo.
"We call on Kosovo and Serbia to increase their will for an agreement to open their European path", said the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell.
Western diplomacy has been trying to speed up the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, asking Pristina to establish the Association of municipalities with a Serbian majority, while Belgrade has de facto recognition of Kosovo.
The American ambassador in Belgrade, Christopher Hill, said on Tuesday that "the establishment of the Association is of crucial importance for the Serbian side... At the same time, I think that Kosovo also needs some things - which are primarily reflected in the need to recognize internationally and its efforts to normalize the situation on the border with Serbia".
Underscoring that this is not an easy task, Ambassador Hill said during the proceedings of the Belgrade Economic Forum that "we must make it clear to both sides that any other way to resolve the issue by arms or any other violent means is completely unacceptable and both sides should be focused on the Brussels talks".
Serbia does not recognize Kosovo's independence, which was declared in 2008, and has refused to join Western sanctions against Moscow over its aggression in Ukraine, primarily because of the Kremlin's support of Serbian claims to Kosovo.
Both countries want to join the European Union, which is brokering talks between them and which has warned that a lack of progress in the process of normalizing relations jeopardizes their path to membership.