October 19, 2014 / 6:38 PM / in 4 years

Serbian, Albanian PMs delay meeting after soccer row

BELGRADE (Reuters) - The prime ministers of Serbia and Albania said on Sunday they had agreed to postpone a meeting scheduled for this coming week following a diplomatic row over a soccer game between the two nations.

Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama is interviewed by Reuters at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts October 16, 2014. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Albania’s Edi Rama had been due to visit Belgrade on Oct. 22 — the first such trip by an Albanian leader in 68 years that was widely seen as a chance to reset ties after a long history of tensions between the Balkan nations.

He will now make the journey on Nov. 10 to allow tempers to cool over Serbia and Albania’s European Championship qualifying tie, which was abandoned on Tuesday after a pitch brawl.

Serbian officials have accused Rama’s brother, Olsi Rama, of sparking the chaos by releasing a small drone trailing a nationalist Albanian flag over the match venue. He has denied the accusation.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic talked to his Albanian counterpart and decided to delay rather than cancel their meeting, his office said in a statement.

“The two prime ministers agreed they ... will not miss the opportunity to meet and work for regional stability and to turn a new page regarding the political and economic relations between the two countries,” the statement said.

It said the two men had recognized that the incidents at the soccer match were “hugely unfortunate”. It added: “There continue to be clear disagreements over exactly what happened.”

Rama issued a similar statement in Tirana.

Relations between Belgrade and Tirana have been tense for decades, hitting their lowest ebb in the late 1990s with the crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Serbia’s then southern province of Kosovo during a two-year counter-insurgency war.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008.

Over the weekend, Serbian police said they apprehended at least two suspects in arson and vandalism attacks targeting businesses owned by ethnic Albanians.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade and Benet Koleka in Tirana; Editing by Crispian Balmer

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