Merkel says wants "no parallel structures in Kosovo"

Mon Dec 19, 2011 7:56am EST
 

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Germany urged Serbia on Monday to stop supporting ethnic kin in Kosovo and seek talks with its ethnic Albanian-led government after roads were blocked and NATO troops attacked by Serbs in the largely lawless north of the tiny country.

"There is a need to have solutions for free trade and border cooperation and we are not interested in having parallel (Serb) structures in Kosovo," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after talks with Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

Speaking in the Kosovo capital Pristina, she said barricades Serbs put up this year to block traffic in north Kosovo, bordering Serbia, should be removed.

Thirty German and Austrian soldiers were injured earlier this month when hundreds of Serbs resisted an attempt by NATO to remove roadblocks they had put up in the north. The violence prompted the European Union on December 9 to shelve Serbia's bid for the status of candidate for EU membership.

Germany has the biggest military contingent in Kosovo, with some 1,800 soldiers serving in NATO's peacekeeping mission in the former Serbian province. The NATO commander there is German.

"I have spoken with (Serbian President Boris) Tadic to find ways to normalize relations and we would like Kosovo to make its contribution too and continue contacts with Serbia and President Tadic," Merkel said.

Kosovo is 90 percent ethnic Albanian and declared independence from Belgrade in 2008. Serbia refuses to recognize it and Kosovo's ethnic Serbs, who dominate in a small slice of the north, continue to function as part of Serbia.

Troubles started in July when Kosovo sent special police units to the northern border to enforce a trade ban with Serbia but were turned back by armed Serbs. Then NATO troops, mainly German soldiers, intervened to try to calm the situation.

The row with Kosovo cost Serbia its EU candidate status. EU leaders assessed that Serbia had not done enough to improve relations with its former province.

Thaci said he would pursue talks with Serbs in the north and with Belgrade. "In the north, the government is not in conflict with the citizens, but law is in conflict with anarchy. We have good relations with Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro. We would like to have good relations with Serbia, too," he said.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Writing by Zoran Radosavljevic; Editing by Mark Heinrich)