Promo train deteriorates relations between Serbia and Kosovo

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 20, 2017 11:11

Promo train deteriorates relations between Serbia and Kosovo

PRISHTINA, Jan. 17 – A major crisis between Kosovo and Serbia erupted this week, after Special Forces stopped a Serbian train bearing signs that read "Kosovo is Serbian" and Serbia's national colors at the border between the two Balkan countries.

The slogan "Kosovo is Serbia" was written in 20 languages, while the train traveling the new service line from Belgrade to Mitrovica North was decorated with images of Serbian Orthodox religious icons, some from monasteries located in Kosovo. Train hostesses were also dressed in Serb national colors.

Kosovo authorities said the train was illegal and was banned from entering Kosovo. The train which later returned to Belgrade sparked a war of words and threats of igniting a new conflict in the fragile Balkans region.

Serbia's President Tomislav Nikolic said that the fact that Kosovo deployed special forces to prevent the train from entering the country showed that "Prishtina wanted war." He claimed that the train was "simply a celebration of its national heritage."

The former member of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party also warned that Belgrade would send its troops into Kosovo.

"We don't want war, but if it is necessary to protect Serbs from being killed, we will send an army to Kosovo. We will send soldiers; we'll all go. I'll go, and it won't be the first time that I go [to defend Serbs]. Serbia will act in line with the Serbian Constitution" he said after a cabinet meeting held on January 15.

Prime Minister of Kosovo Isa Mustafa said in a press conference that the train "sent a message of occupation."

He added that Nikolic's statements were irresponsible but also "a threat to Kosovo and to Balkans."

"We do not want to respond to that threat with the same language. We are interested in living in good neighborly relations with Serbia" Mustafa said.

President Hashim Thaci said that the train was donated by Russia. He accused Serbia of trying to provoke Kosovo and also " creating a pretext for Belgrade to use the military and annex a part of Kosovo similarly to Crimea peninsula."

"This train which was donated by Russia, first aims to help carve away the northern part of Kosovo and then ... attach it to Serbia. It is the Crimea model," Thaci said in an interview with Reuters.

Meanwhile, United States ambassador in Prishtina, Greg Delawie took to social media and called "for restraint from all parties." "Normalization between Serbia and Kosovo is needed not confrontation" he said in a tweet.

The EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, also called on both countries to "avoid escalation."

"My message to the parties has been to avoid escalations, try to contain both acts and rhetoric, and try to see the common engagement through the dialogue as something that is delivering for both - not necessarily so much for both institutions but for both people - because the steps we have taken with Belgrade and with Pristina last year are somehow historical," Mogherini said on Monday during a press conference in Brussels.

Mogherini urged both sides to continue the dialogue and be determined in the perspective of EU integration.

Both countries are seeking European Union membership. Serbia has already been granted candidate status, while Kosovo still awaits visa liberalization.

Relations between the two countries have deteriorated recently following the detention of former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj in France, based on a Serbian arrest warrant over allegations of wrongdoing in a 1998-99 war. Haradinaj was cleared twice by the Hague tribunal of charges, but Serbia has insisted on his extradition.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but over 50,000 ethnic Serbs living in Northern Mitrovica still refuse to accept the independence of Kosovo and demand to be governed by Belgrade.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times January 20, 2017 11:11