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U.S. urges Kosovo to back peace deal and form group of Serb municipalities

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The United States ambassador to Kosovo on Tuesday urged Pristina to press ahead with forming an association of Serb municipalities and help complete an EU-brokered peace deal with its former master, Serbia.

Jeffrey M. Hovenier said the U.S. expected Kosovo to “follow through on its obligations,” describing the formation of the association as “critical, important and urgent”.

Kosovo in 2013 pledged to give more autonomy to local Serbs, who refuse to recognise its 2008 independence, through such an association as part of a peace deal. However, Kosovo’s highest court said some parts of the deal were in violation of the constitution and should be changed before it takes effect.

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

The U.S. said that while the obligation must be met, Washington would not tell Pristina to do anything that could jeopardise its own sovereignty.

“We do not support any arrangement that violates Kosovo’s constitution… or that will threaten Kosovo’s sovereignty, independence, multiethnic character 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 was ready to “provide expertise and political support” to ensure the resolution worked in the interest of all Kosovans.

Around one hundred people, backed by Kurti’s supporters, protested the formation of the association at midday on Tuesday.

Last week European Union, U.S., German, French and Italian envoys met leaders of both countries to try to convince them to sign an 11-point deal meant to defuse tensions lingering since their 1998-99 conflict.

The western diplomats told both countries they should state by March whether they accept an international plan to normalise relations or face repercussions from the EU and United States.

The 11-point western deal states that Serbia would not be required to recognise the independence of its former province but would have to stop lobbying against Kosovo’s membership in international bodies.

The two countries would also have to open representative offices in each other’s capitals and work on resolving outstanding issues.

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People wave Kosovo and Albanian flags as they protest against the Association of municipalities with a Serbian majority in Pristina, Kosovo, January 31, 2023. REUTERS/Laura Hasani/File Photo

SENSITIVE MATERIAL. THIS IMAGE MAY OFFEND OR DISTURB People hold photos of relatives killed during the Kosovo war in the protest against the Association of municipalities with a Serbian majority in Pristina, Kosovo, January 31, 2023. REUTERS/Laura Hasani/File Photo