Serbia frees Kosovo police officers but tensions persist

LUXEMBOURG — Three Kosovo police officers who were detained for almost two weeks in Serbia have been released, in a development that could help jump-start stalled talks between the two Western Balkan countries. 

“We confirm that the three kidnapped police officers have been released,” Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti announced on Twitter.

But in a sign that Pristina is demanding accountability for the actions he added: “This abduction consists of a serious human rights violation & must be reprimanded. The Serbian aggression must be held accountable.”

The capture of the three police officers had been condemned by the United States, and marked the latest escalation between Pristina and Belgrade following controversial elections in the north of Kosovo in April. 

Earlier, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán claimed credit for brokering the deal with the Serbian president — a close ally of Budapest.

“We highly appreciate the step of President Vučić which he took in a period of serious challenges, and which decision is a clear proof of the strategic cooperation between our countries, and our mutual commitment to the peace and stability of the Balkans,” Orbán said. 

Both Kurti and Vučić traveled to Brussels last Thursday for talks — though the two men met with EU top diplomat Josep Borrell separately.

The meetings yielded no substantive breakthrough, though Borrell said that the two sides had “agreed on the need for new elections” in north Kosovo. The elections were effectively boycotted by the ethnic Serbian community in the region. As a result, four ethnic Albanian mayors were elected, on a minuscule turnout. 

On Saturday, Kurti alleged that Kosovan authorities had intercepted a Serbian-state-owned car loaded with military-grade arms and had prevented a “terrorist attack.” 

As well as holding new elections, Pristina is coming under pressure to establish an association of Serb majority municipalities — a key obligation under the 2013 Brussels agreement governing Kosovo-Serbia relations. 

EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday are due to be updated by Borrell on the latest developments in the region.

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