West tells Kosovo and Serbia to return to negotiating table

By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Four European countries and the United States urged Kosovo and Serbia on Tuesday to re-launch their dialogue on normalizing ties in order to advance their bid for EU membership.

The EU-sponsored dialogues between Belgrade and Pristina was halted last Novermber when Kosovo introduced a 100 percent tax on goods produced in Serbia, pledging to remove it only when Belgrade recognizes Kosovo as a sovereign state.

"The status quo prevents progress on Kosovo's and Serbia's path toward the European Union (EU) and is simply not sustainable," said the so-called Quint group of the United States, Italy, France, Germany and Britain.

They urged both parties to remove obstacles for a dialogue first.

"For Kosovo, that means suspending the tariffs imposed on Serbia. For Serbia, that means suspending the de-recognition campaign against Kosovo," a joint statement said.

Kosovo, with a 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority, declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nearly 10 years after NATO bombing drove Serb forces out of the country. It has been recognized by more than 110 states but not by five EU member states, Serbia and Russia.

Serbia still considers Kosovo part of its territory and has blocked Pristina's membership in international organizations including Interpol and UNESCO. It has also asked some countries to revert their decision to recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state.

Marko Djuric who is the head of the Serbian government's Office for Kosovo said the five countries that wrote the letter were in favor of unconditional recognition of Kosovo.

He said that Serbia had acknowledged the letter but that "the policy toward Kosovo will be guided by interests".

The Kosovo government said it would always take into consideration any suggestions from the international partners.

But introducing the tariffs "was a necessary act to protect the interests of Kosovo from hostile actions and continues threats from Serbia," the government said in a statement.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Ivana Sekularac and Angus MacSwan)


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