PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Kosovo's leaders must continue European Union-facilitated talks aimed at normalizing ties with Serbia, a European security official said Friday amid rising tensions between the two countries.
The head of the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe met with senior officials and political leaders in Pristina to express concern about the situation.
"Restoring a positive trend of normalization of relations is key to progress and stability," Lamberto Zannier said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. "Leaders must remain committed to the implementation of the Brussels agreements and to the EU-facilitated dialogue process with renewed energy and assurance."
Earlier this week, Kosovo's president said it planned to transform its lightly-armed security force into an army. Relations between Kosovo and Serbia have been tense recently and the move is likely to make things worse. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, and it has been recognized by 114 countries but not Serbia.
President Hashim Thaci, who prepared the draft law, on Friday urged the government and the parliament to speed up steps to vote on the draft law, adding that "the international community is obliged to convince Belgrade not to interfere in Kosovo's internal issues."
NATO and the U.S. have warned they could scale back cooperation with Kosovo's security services if the government goes ahead with plans to transform its security force into an army without the required constitutional changes.
Constitutional amendments would also need the approval of the ethnic Serb minority in the country, which has long boycotted all institutions following Belgrade's advice, according to Thaci.
The president assured his citizens "that this process will conclude in 100 percent coordination with the United States and NATO.
"If the lawmakers do not vote in favor (of the draft law), at that second I would resign," he warned in an interview to the public broadcaster RTK.
On Thursday, Kosovo's parliament called on the government to cancel negotiations with Serbia until former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj's case in France is thrown out. He is awaiting a court decision on whether he will be extradited to Serbia on war crime charges.
Edi Tahiri, Kosovo's chief negotiator with Serbia, told Radio Free Europe that "the government and me as chief negotiator respect the resolution of Kosovo's Assembly (parliament). Since the start of dialogue in 2011 we, the government, have respected all of the Assembly's resolutions and we remain committed to that direction," she said, without clarifying what damages Kosovo could suffer from the suspension of dialogue.
"I met with the government and opposition leaders, and I encouraged them to maintain a constructive approach in order to avoid a spillover of tensions," Zannier said.
Though Western Balkan countries are at different stages of integration within the European Union, tensions exist within and outside their borders.
Serbia, who votes for a new president next month, is deeply split between those seeking pro-Western integration and those wanting a close alliance with traditional Slavic partner Russia.
Relations between Serbia and its former war foes Bosnia and EU member Croatia have soured in recent months, while political instability threatens Macedonia to the south.
This story has been corrected to show that Kosovo's president, not the government, prepared the draft law in the fifth paragraph.