US urges Kosovo to support peace deal, form Serbian Municipalities Group

PRISTINA (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador to Kosovo on Tuesday urged Pristina to continue forming an association of Serbian municipalities and help broker an EU-brokered peace deal with its former ruler, Serbia .

Jeffrey M. Hovenier said the United States expects Kosovo to “meet its obligations”, describing the formation of the association as “critical, important and urgent”.

In 2013, Kosovo pledged to give more autonomy to local Serbs, who refuse to recognize its 2008 independence, through such an association as part of a peace deal. However, Kosovo’s highest court said parts of the deal violated the constitution and would need to be changed before it takes effect.

The biggest opponent remains Prime Minister Albin Kurti, who says such a body would create a mini-state in Kosovo and effectively divide the country along ethnic lines, similar to Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The United States said that if the obligation were to be fulfilled, Washington would not tell Pristina to do anything that could jeopardize its own sovereignty.

“We do not support any arrangement that violates Kosovo’s constitution…or threatens the sovereignty, independence, multi-ethnic character of Kosovo or its democratic institutions,” Hovenier said.

“We strictly oppose the creation of any entity resembling Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” he added.

Hovenier said Washington stands ready to “provide its expertise and political support” to ensure the resolution works in the interests of all Kosovars.

A hundred people, supported by supporters of Kurti, protested Tuesday noon against the formation of the association.

Last week, envoys from the European Union, the United States, Germany, France and Italy met with the leaders of the two countries to try to convince them to sign an 11-point agreement intended to defuse persistent tensions since their 1998-1999 conflict.

Western diplomats have told the two countries they should declare by March whether they accept an international plan to normalize relations or face repercussions from the EU and the United States.

The 11-point Western agreement stipulates that Serbia would not be required to recognize the independence of its former province but should stop lobbying against Kosovo’s membership in international bodies.

The two countries should also open representative offices in each other’s capitals and work to resolve outstanding issues.

(This story has been reclassified to change the title)

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci, editing by Ben Dangerfield)

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