Sat, 30 May 2020

Kosovo announced it will lift tariffs on Serbian imports of raw materials starting on March 15 in a step to normalize relations with its Balkan neighbor.

Tariffs in place for all other Serbian goods will be eliminated on April 1 for a period of 90 days if Belgrade halts its campaign of prodding other countries not to recognize Kosovo's statehood and removes trade barriers for Kosovo, Prime Minister Albin Kurti said at a news conference in Pristina on February 27.

He said if Serbia doesn't respect Kosovo's act of goodwill, then, starting on April 1, Kosovo will reciprocate in kind -- first in trade then in political terms.

Kurti also voiced hopes the measures will prompt the EU to ease visa and travel restrictions for Kosovars ahead of the EU-Western Balkans summit in Zagreb on May 7.

He added the tariffs will be reimposed on June 15 if Serbia's actions don't "reflect" on Pristina's initial decision to lift tariffs for raw materials.

Kosovo's former prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, who imposed 100 percent tariffs on Serbian and Bosnian imports in 2018, said Kurti's decision was perilous.

'This is the beginning of the return of Serbia and Russia to Kosovo,' Haradinaj wrote on Facebook.

Relations between Pristina and Belgrade have remained strained since the Kosovo war, which claimed more than 10,000 lives and left over 1 million people homeless.

Serbia continues to consider its former province part of its territory, although Kosovo's independence, declared in 2008, has been recognized by about 100 countries, including the United States.

Talks on normalizing diplomatic relations were derailed in November 2018 by Pristina's imposition of 100 percent tariffs on Serbian goods and services in response to Belgrade's continued lobbying for countries to reverse their recognition of Kosovo.

However, the United States and EU envoys have been mediating talks for the two sides to come back to the negotiating table.

Earlier this month, Serbian and Kosovar officials signed a deal to restore a railway link between Belgrade and Pristina and to connect the two capitals with a highway.

The move came after the two sides last month signed an agreement on the resumption of commercial flights between Serbia and Kosovo that were halted two decades ago when the 1998-99 Kosovo conflict escalated.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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