Points of dispute between Kosovo and Serbia

Pristina (AFP) –


Normalising Pristina-Belgrade ties seems a long way off as distrust between the former foes still remains strong two decades after the Kosovo war, the last conflict that accompanied Yugoslavia's collapse.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic met Thursday in a tense atmosphere in Brussel to restart stalled talks.

Here are the key points of dispute:

- Recognition of Kosovo -

In 2008, a decade after the 1998-1999 war between Serbia's forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia.

Serbia refuses to recognise Kosovo's independence, although more than 100 countries, including the US and most EU member states, have done so.

But Kosovo has made recognition by Belgrade the sine qua non for any deal.

Serbia has enshrined in its constitution its jurisdiction over its former ethnic-Albanian majority province.

Dubbed the "Serb Jerusalem", many Serbs see Kosovo as their national and religious cradle.

However, according to a recent survey, a quarter of Serbian citizens are now convinced that Kosovo is lost.

- Punitive tariffs -

Backed by Russia and China, Belgrade closed the doors of the United Nations to Kosovo. In addition, Serbia claims that a dozen countries, such as Papua New Guinea, Suriname or recently the Comoros, have withdrawn their decisions following their diplomatic initiative.

Pristina argued it was a "Serbian propaganda".

In response, Kosovo raised taxes on Serbian goods by 10 percent earlier this week, sparking criticism not just from Belgrade but from the European Union.

With annual exports of 400 million euros ($454 million), Serbia is Kosovo's top regional trade partner.

- Kosovo's Serbs -

There is no official census, but Kosovo is still home to about 120,000 ethnic Serbs. They live in the region of the divided city of Mitrovica, but also in a dozen predominantly Serb territories where Pristina can not impose its sovereignty.

The most important Orthodox religious places, such as the Decani monastery, enjoy an extraterritorial status and are under international protection.

In 2013, an agreement provided for the creation of an association of 10 "municipalities" for the territories populated mainly by ethnic Serbs.

But it has never been implemented, as Belgrade and Pristina cannot agree on the powers these communities would have.

Belgrade accuses Pristina of delaying tactics. In response, Kosovo says Serbia intends to create autonomous structures with executive powers like those of Bosnia's Serb-majority entity, Republika Srpska.

- Territorial disputes -

Serbia claims ownership of property located in Kosovo, notably the Trepca industrial-mining complex in the northern Mitrovica region and the Gazivode artificial lake, called Ujman by Kosovo Albanians.

But for Pristina, they are inalienable.

Located in an area populated by ethnic Serbs, the lake plays a crucial role for Kosovo's water supply and energy independence.

Trepca and its minerals also represent a rare source of wealth of the rather poor region, even if its industrial infrastructure is in an appalling state.

While most mines are on the Albanian side of Mitrovica, the industrial complex is on the Serb side.

- An army for Kosovo -

Kosovo has no army. For the moment, a NATO-led international force provides its security.

Pristina has repeatedly said they want to form their own army, provoking anger from the Serb minority and Belgrade, for whom it is a red line.

The West too, notably NATO, also oppose it as long as it lacks the support of Serb minority in Kosovo.

Kosovo lawmakers are nevertheless reviewing a draft law aimed at the founding of an army.

Pristina and most Western countries want the end of the UN's mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), arguing that the political situation no longer justifies it as it is an independent country.

Serbia and its allies, notably Russia, are vigorously against an end to the mission.

For them, the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 from 1999, according to which Kosovo is part of former Yugoslavia, which was replaced by Serbia, remains valid.

- A 'parallel system' in the north -

In the mainly ethnic-Serb northern Mitrovica part of Kosovo, cars have either Serbian registration plates or none, while inhabitants use Serbian dinar as currency.

It is impossible to use a Kosovo phone there.

The two sides still do not mutually recognise their respective diplomas.

Nor do the people there pay electricity bills to a Kosovo company, which the Pristina administration says costs them about 10 million euros annually ($11 million).

Pristina accuses Belgrade of funding a "parallel system" by paying wages to civil servants in northern Kosovo.