TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The leaders of Serbia and Albania sought to mend their thorny relations Wednesday during the first visit to Albania by a Serb prime minister.
Aleksandar Vucic's visit was held under tight security, with some 1,300 policemen deployed in the capital Tirana, police and army helicopters overhead and streets in the city center blocked to traffic.
"Relations between Serbia and Albania will be the backbone of relations in this part of Europe," Vucic said after talks with his Albanian counterpart Edi Rama. "If we are smart and responsible enough, and we understand that wars and bloodshed will not solve our problems, but with talks, with dialogue, with honest relations, then I can say that both Serbia and Albania have a much better future compared to the past we had together."
Relations between the two Balkan states have been strained, mainly over the former Serbian province of Kosovo where majority ethnic Albanians declared independence in 2008. Serbia, which considers Kosovo the cradle of their statehood and Christian Orthodox religion, refuses to recognize its independence.
"The courage that Germany and France had to overcome rivers of blood after World War II should inspire us to turn this peaceful time into a history of building up the foundations of a sustainable coexistence," Rama said.
The two premiers discussed increasing bilateral trade and investment, cooperation in energy and tourism and recognizing their countries' university diplomas.
Both countries have applied for European Union membership. Albania is a NATO member while Serbia is still on the waiting list.
Vucic said the two would jointly ask the EU for funding support for a highway linking Nish in Serbia with Durres in Albania and passing through Kosovo.
Vucic's visit follows Rama's visit to Belgrade in November, the first by an Albanian head of government to Serbia in 68 years.
Rama's trip to Serbia had originally been scheduled to be held in October, but was postponed over tension arising from a European Championship soccer qualifying match between the two national teams. The game in Belgrade was suspended after a drone carrying an Albanian nationalist flag ignited clashes between players and fans.
His appearance in Belgrade was marred by an open clash at a press conference between the two prime ministers over Kosovo's statehood. Vucic reacted angrily to Rama's remarks that Serbia should view Kosovo's independence with "realism."
During Wednesday's visit, both Vucic and Rama stuck to their respective positions regarding Kosovo, but without placing particular emphasis on the issue during their joint appearance after their meeting.
Serbia has been accusing Tirana of wanting to create a Greater Albania encompassing Kosovo, large chunks of Macedonia and other territories where ethnic Albanians live in the Balkans. Albania has repeatedly denied such ambitions, saying borders in the Balkans would not matter once all its states become EU members.
Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade