BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The influential Serbian Orthodox Church appealed Saturday against a deal with Kosovo Albanians that would pave the way for Serbia's European Union membership.
The EU has given Serbia until Tuesday to say whether it would relinquish the control of northern of Kosovo — one of the most difficult issues dividing the former Serbian province — in exchange for the start of Serbia's EU membership negotiations.
Talks between Serbian and Kosovo officials on the issue broke down last week in Brussels and Serbian leaders have since been debating whether to accept or reject the deal which they describe as "catastrophic" and unfair.
Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej said in a letter addressed to Serbian leaders that they shouldn't "give up, sell or betray" Kosovo for a "murky" EU membership promise.
Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, is considered by nationalists to be the cradle of Serbian medieval statehood and religion. It has been recognized by more than 90 countries including the U.S. and 22 of the EU's 27 members. But because of a blockade by Serbian allies Russia and China in the Security Council, Kosovo is not a U.N. member.
Serbia relinquished the control of most of Kosovo in 1999 when NATO chased its troops out of the region after a three-month bombing campaign. Ending the partition of Kosovo between the Albanian majority and the Serb-controlled north — about a fifth of the country — is a key condition of Serbia's further progress toward EU membership.
The Serbian church leader said that the country's political leadership "has no mandate to accept the conditions that have never been rendered to any other EU candidate country."
"The price is too high," Irinej said. "Serbia should not accept to pay that price for goods that may never be delivered."
Serbian officials said they would on Monday decide whether to accept or reject the deal.