Czech Leader Adds to Tension in Balkans Territorial Dispute

Andrea Dudik

(Bloomberg) -- The Czech president sparked ire when he said he’d ask his nation’s leadership whether the European Union member could undo its recognition of Kosovo, making him an unexpected backer of Serbia in the Balkans’ biggest territorial dispute.

Like most EU states, the Czech Republic recognized Kosovo following its 2008 unilateral declaration of independence. Serbia refuses to do so and has been trying to persuade nations to not recognize its neighbor or withdraw their endorsement.

President Milos Zeman, who was prime minister of the Czech Republic when as a NATO member it supported the alliance’s 1999 bombing of Serbia to end its war with Kosovo, doesn’t have the power to undo his country’s recognition. But his comments, made during an official visit to Belgrade Wednesday won praise from Serb politicians.

Kosovo canceled its participation in a meeting of prime ministers from the so-called Visegrad 4 group of central European countries and western Balkan states that is scheduled in Prague for Thursday, the Prague-based CTK news service reported.

While the countries have to mend ties in order to join the EU, Serbia is seeking to reduce the number of states recognizing Kosovo to at least half of the members of the United Nations to ensure it isn’t accepted into international organizations. The biggest former Yugoslav republic also relies on the backing from Russia, China, India and five EU states that haven’t recognized Kosovo.

Serbia and Kosovo fought a war that stopped in 1999 only after NATO warplanes bombed Serbia. The Balkan neighbors signed an EU-brokered deal to mend ties in 2013 but the efforts stalled last year when Serbia blocked Kosovo from joining Interpol, triggering a retaliatory 100% tax on Serb imports.

Western nations have urged Kosovo to suspend the tariffs and called on Serbia to stop the de-recognition campaign against Kosovo.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Dudik in Prague at adudik@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson at fjackson@bloomberg.net, Michael Winfrey, Balazs Penz

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