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Serb, Kosovo officials in Sofia in diplomatically delicate meeting

Serb, Kosovo officials in Sofia in diplomatically delicate meeting

Serb and Kosovo officials were attending an international meeting together Wednesday for the first time since Kosovo declared independence, but Serbia stressed this was in no way a recognition of the new country.
The Bulgarian hosts faced a delicate diplomatic balancing act, even though Kosovo was not attending the Stability Pact meeting as a country in its own right. Serbia has vowed never to recognize the independence of Kosovo, which it considers the heartland of its national identity.
Kosovo has attended such meetings in the past through representatives of the U.N. administration running the province.
Serb Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic stressed this was the only way it would accept Kosovo's participation.
"Serbia will never recognize the declaration of independence of our southern province. Serbia will remain whole and free: Kosovo shall remain a part of Serbia forever," Jeremic said.
The foreign minister said Belgrade had "no intention to obstruct the important work that needs to be done in advancing and deepening regional cooperation." But maintaining the status quo was "the minimum requirement, from our perspective, for us to continue going forward."
Kosovo was being represented at the meeting by three U.N. officials and by Besim Beqaj, chair of the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce. Kosovo has no foreign ministry, and Beqaj is in charge of regional cooperation initiatives such as the Stability Pact.
The province's secession has made the region "more unstable, more insecure, and more unpredictable," Jeremic said, according to a text of his speech released by the Serb delegation. Although the media was allowed to watch an earlier session, the one during which Jeremic spoke was closed to the press.
The Stability Pact was founded in 1999 by Western countries to increase investment and boost democratic reforms in southeastern Europe. Wednesday's meeting will be its last before it changes into a Regional Cooperation Council led by the regional countries themselves.
But, clearly, regional acrimony persists.
"The RCC represents the voice of the region, and that voice is not, I am sorry to say, as unified as it should be," Jeremic said.
The Bulgarian hosts stressed that no state should be excluded.
"Despite the numerous differences and difficulties, all the countries of the region, without a single exception, will participate in the new structure," he said. The aim was "not to allow any country to be left isolated from the regional cooperation. Otherwise, this would lead to negative consequences for the whole region."
But Jeremic said the new council was being created without the unity the region needs.
Kosovo's independence has sown discord in the region. Albania, Turkey and Slovenia are among countries that have already recognized the new state, and others are expected to follow suit. But Serbia was outraged and some other countries, such as Romania and Greece, have strong reservations.
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country currently holds the European Union presidency, said no nation should attempt to obstruct another.
"We cannot accept that any country in this region would put obstacles to another country as far as interaction and communication and cooperation are concerned," he said earlier.
Regional foreign ministers are to meet in Sofia on Thursday.
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Associated Press writer Veselin Toshkov contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-06-24 22:24 GMT+08:00