Officials from Albania, Kosovo visit rival Serbia

AP News
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Posted: Oct 23, 2014 2:38 PM

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Kosovo's foreign minister traveled to Serbia on Thursday for the first time since Kosovo declared independence in 2008, describing the visit as a historic event.

Also in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, was Albanian Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati, who arrived amid diplomatic tensions between Albania and Serbia after last week's brawl at a soccer game between them.

The two senior officials were attending an EU-sponsored conference of Balkan foreign ministers to improve relations in a region still reeling from the bloody ethnic conflicts of the 1990s.

Kosovo's Enver Hoxhaj said his visit "should be understood as a first historic visit of a Kosovo foreign minister to Serbia, but at the same time it shoes how much the relations have relaxed."

Albanian-dominated Kosovo has been at the center of a decades-long regional dispute. Serbia, which considers Kosovo the cradle of its statehood and religion, has never accepted its declaration of statehood.

All three countries have moved to improve ties in order to advance in their bids to join the 28-nation European Union. Serbia and Kosovo signed an EU-sponsored agreement normalizing ties in 2013. Albania's prime minister is expected to visit Serbia next month, the first in 70 years.

"The common denominator of this region is not nationalism, but the need and desire for economic prosperity and for social and economic transformation," Bushati said.

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic agreed that the EU-backed meeting "took place in good atmosphere, showing the changes in the Balkans." He said the next meeting will be in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.

Hoxhaj, meanwhile, urged Belgrade to withdraw its opposition to Kosovo's membership in the United Nations.

Kosovo's split from Serbia came after a 1998-99 war for independence that left more than 10,000 dead. Serbia's brutal crackdown in the province prompted NATO to launch airstrikes to stop the conflict.


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