Top State Dept. official heading to Kosovo to set Serbia peace talks 'back on track'

A senior U.S. official on Tuesday said he would be visiting Kosovo in the next days to put “back on track” talks on normalizing ties between Kosovo and Serbia, after tensions escalated over Kosovo’s decision to ban the use of the Serbian dinar.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar said he would discuss with Kosovo authorities a possible resolution of the “uncoordinated decision” to ban Serbia’s dinar and transfers from Serbia to citizens of Kosovo who depend on social services and payments.

The government of Kosovo banned banks and other financial institutions in ethnic Serbian-dominated areas, especially in Kosovo’s north, from using the dinar in local transactions starting Feb. 1, and imposed the euro. The dinar was widely used to pay pensions and salaries to staff in Serbian-run institutions, including schools and hospitals.

KOSOVO BANS USE OF SERBIAN CURRENCY, PROMPTING THOUSANDS OF MINORITY SERBS TO PROTEST

The ban angered both Kosovo Serbs and Serbia, and has fueled Western concerns about regional tensions as a full-scale war rages in Ukraine.

Escobar acknowledged that Washington and Brussels were struggling to get Pristina-Belgrade dialogue “back on track.”

Gabriel Escobar

PRISTINA, KOSOVO – OCTOBER 19: US Special Envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar and Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani (not seen) hold a joint press conference after their meeting in Pristina, Kosovo on October 19, 2022. (Photo by Erkin Keci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“There is no other alternative than the EU facilitated dialogue,” Escobar told an online news conference from Brussels, urging Priština and Belgrade “to show goodwill and prevent any provocations.”

Brussels has warned both that refusal to compromise jeopardizes Serbia and Kosovo’s chances of joining the bloc, which is mediating a dialogue between the former foes. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s formal declaration of independence in 2008.

In 1999, a 78-day NATO bombing campaign ended a war between Serbian government forces and ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo. Serbian forces were pushed out but Belgrade still considers it a Serbian province.

In May last year, Kosovo Serbs clashed with security forces, including NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers, injuring 93 troops, in a dispute with Priština over the validity of local elections in the Serbian minority-dominated part of northern Kosovo.

Kosovo has agreed to hold referendums in four Serb-majority municipalities on April 21 on whether to oust their ethnic Albanian mayors, whose election last year raised tensions between Serbia and Kosovo.

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In September, a Kosovo police officer and three Serb gunmen were killed in a shootout after about 30 masked men opened fire on a police patrol near the Kosovo village of Banjska.