Secret land swap plan dismissed by US

US diplomats issued a joint statement on Thursday rebuffing claims made by acting Prime Minister Albin Kurti that a secret land swap agreement has been devised by the presidents of Kosovo and Serbia.

A statement published by the US State Department on Thursday dismissed claims made by acting Prime Minister Albin Kurti that the presidents of Serbia and Kosovo had reached a secret agreement involving a land swap with their assistance. 

The statement was signed by US Special Envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, Richard Grenell, the US Ambassador to Kosovo, Philip Kosnett, and the US Special Representative for the Western Balkans, Matthew Palmer. 

“We want to make clear there is no secret plan for land swaps between Kosovo and Serbia, as some have speculated. Special Presidential Envoy Richard Grenell has never seen nor discussed such a plan,” the joint statement said.

It came one day after the Kosovo Assembly passed a motion of no confidence against Kurti’s coalition government tabled by his junior partner, the Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, following weeks of disputes between the partners in the midst of COVID-19 outbreak.

Kurti made the accusation during the parliamentary session for the no confidence motion, claiming that the real reason for the motion to get rid of his government was a secret agreement on a land swap between Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

LDK initiated the motion after Kurti sacked LDK Interior Minister Agim Veliu from the government without seeking LDK’s approval.

The success of the motion made Kurti’s cabinet the shortest government in the history of Kosovo, which collapsed after only 51 days. Kosovo MPs passed the motion despite calls from Kosovo’s European allies to act more responsibly during a time of crisis, and not risk leaving the country rudderless.

US relations with the Vetevendosje-led government were bumpy from the start after Kurti ignored US calls to completely lift the tariffs imposed on Serbian goods by his predecessor Ramush Haradinaj in November 2018.

The US diplomats repeated this message in their joint statement, saying: “We believe the tariffs are harming the people of Kosovo by hindering regional cooperation against COVID-19 – including by delaying the entry into Kosovo of needed supplies – and hindering economic growth.”

Kurti outlined plans to partially remove the tariff in February, which were immediately described by Grenell as “a half measure.” The Kosovo Government eventually removed the tariff applied to raw materials on March 20, and scheduled their total removal for 1 April. 

By refusing to remove tariffs completely, despite numerous US requests, Kurti was accused by his political rivals, and even by his partners in government, of leading an “anti-American policy.”

When the US statement became public, the LDK’s leader, Isa Mustafa, took to Facebook to call on Kurti to apologise to the country and to America.

“Those losers who accused the US because of their incompetence today should apologise to all Kosovo citizens and our [US] friend,” Mustafa said.

“This [statement] best shows that they fled the government as a consequence of their own incompetence, and not because of the fear of the partition of Kosovo,” he added.

On the other hand, Vetevendosje Deputy Chairman Besnik Bislimi welcomed the US statement, calling it “a good statement for Kosovo” as it showed that Washington was not against working with the party.

“Grenell and Palmer say that the US will cooperate with any government formed through the constitutional process. So, they do not have any position against any political entity, as many in Kosovo have propagated,” Bislimi said, referencing claims that the US would not cooperate with any government led by Vetevendosje.

“Diplomats ask for the respect of the constitution and not individuals who put themselves above the constitution and institutions… Constitutional processes on the dialogue say that the dialogue should be led by the prime minister,” Bislimi added, referencing the separate spat between Kurti and Thaci over who should lead the currently stalled dialogue with Serbia on normalising relations.

The toppling of the government has left Kosovo facing multiple political scenarios, ranging from a new government led by the same party to a new government led by other parties – or fresh general elections. However, it seems unlikely that elections can be held in the near future due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, Thaci said consultations on forming the new government will start next week, with a view to avoiding elections. 

“My focus will be to avoid the possibility of new elections or the dissolution of parliament in any circumstances,” Thaci said. “Starting Monday morning, I will invite political leaders, listen to their opinions and present the criteria on the establishment of a new government in order to not have an institutional vacuum.”

and 27/03/2020 - 14:39

27 March 2020 - 14:39

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