Kosovo election winner Kurti wants new tack in Serbia talks

Kurti will be under pressure from the West to reboot the EU-led dialogue with Serbia
Kurti will be under pressure from the West to reboot the EU-led dialogue with Serbia Armend NIMANI AFP
3 min
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Pristina (AFP)

After a landslide win in Kosovo's parliamentary elections, left-wing reformist Albin Kurti told AFP Monday he wants to reframe talks with Serbia to put the two sides on equal footing.

The Balkan neighbours have been locked in long-running negotiations to resolve disputes still poisoning relations 20 years after they separated in war.

Kurti said the talks should not be centre on how to "compensate" Serbia for losing its former province.

"The dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo must change our countries for the better," he told AFP from his party's headquarters in Pristina.

"We need to discuss with Serbia honestly, openly, seriously, and with people as the end beneficiaries," he added.

Kurti is on the cusp of becoming Kosovo's next Prime Minister after his anti-establishment Vetevendosje party dominated Sunday's snap poll.

He is expected to take a tougher stance with Belgrade than his predecessors.

Serbia lost control of Kosovo after the province's ethnic Albanian majority rebelled against then-strongman Slobodan Milosevic in the late 1990s.

The ensuing war left 13,000 dead, mostly Kosovo Albanians.

Serbia still refuses to recognise the statehood Kosovo declared in 2008, forming the basis of their "frozen conflict."

While Kurti said domestic issues like corruption and the economy would be his top priority, he will face heavy pressure from the West to reboot the EU-led dialogue with Kosovo's neighbour.

The 45-year-old said he wanted to reverse the direction of the talks, accusing Belgrade of promising to recognise Kosovo at the end of the negotiations -- while demanding maximal concessions in the meantime.

"You take as much as you can while promising an end which doesn't happen," he said, accusing Belgrade of "salami tactics".

"That's why reciprocity, equality cannot be the end result (of the talks), it must be the initial point, and people the end beneficiaries," he said.

Kurti also accused Serbia of seeking an edge in Brussels by threatening to turn towards the EU's rivals to the East.

Serbia is working towards EU membership, but still nurtures close ties with Moscow and Beijing.

Meanwhile, "we never threaten the EU and someone else got rewarded," Kurti said.

- 'No compromise' for mafia -

At home, Kurti stressed he would focus on delivering his promises of "jobs and justice" to Kosovo's 1.8 million people.

The former student activist has long accused Kosovo's traditional parties of corruption and nepotism, a message that resonated with voters hungry for change in one of Europe's poorest places.

His government would "produce our own Eliot Nesses, who are going to put our small Al Capones behind bars," Kurti said in reference to the American agent who took down Chicago's notorious mafia boss.

"There will be no compromise" for offenders, he said, laying out plans to vet judges, police and intelligence officials.

"Our country is poor, and corruption in our country is about to render the weak state of Kosovo into a failed one."

After winning nearly 50 percent of the vote, Kurti said he had a "historical chance" to bring Kosovo into a new era, saying there was the possibility of "a fresh start" -- freighted with "a lot of responsibility."