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Kosovo-Serb handshake sparks outrage

2012-07-07 23:01

Belgrade - A handshake on Saturday between Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and former Serbian President Boris Tadic triggered outrage both in Serbia and Kosovo.

The two attended a summit of current and former regional leaders and European Union officials in Dubrovnik, Croatia. It was the first time the two met face-to-face since the 1998-99 war between Serb government forces and independence-seeking Kosovo Albanians that left thousands dead and millions homeless.

Thaci, a former ethnic Albanian guerrilla commander, and Tadic, who lost a May presidential election against nationalist opponent Tomislav Nikolic, shook hands during the summit, but apparently held no official talks.

Serbia, backed by Russia, has refused to recognise the independence of its former province declared in 2008, and has boycotted all international meetings attended by high-ranking Kosovo officials. Thaci has been officially branded a "terrorist" in Serbia.

Negotiate

Serbia's prime minister designate, Ivica Dacic, said Tadic's presence at the summit is an "enigma", and asked the former pro-Western Serbian leader to clarify his policies now that he's an opposition official.

"It seems, Tadic has led one policy as president and a different one as an opposition leader," said Dacic, who has ditched his alliance with Tadic from the previous government and is now trying to form a new Cabinet with nationalists.

Speaking at the summit in Dubrovnik, US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon said "at this point" Serbia does not need to recognise Kosovo, but should negotiate with the former province.

"Serbia will have to come to terms with the reality of a democratic, sovereign, independent and multi-ethnic Kosovo within its current borders," Gordon, who will visit Belgrade and Kosovo's capital, Pristina, next week, said.

Tadic told Serbia's state Tanjug news agency that "there is nothing historic" about his handshake with Thaci.

"But, it's good that the representatives of (ethnic) Albanian and Serbian nations are meeting," Tadic said. "We have a problem between us that we need to solve."

Thaci said his handshake with Tadic came too late, and that he had no intention of meeting the former president.

In Kosovo, the handshake sparked condemnation among opposition ethnic Albanian politicians who said it damages Kosovo's future.

"This shows the current government is ready to meet the same Serb politicians that are the main reason Kosovo remains (ethnically) divided," said Glauk Konjfuca of the opposition Self-determination party, which is opposed to any talks with Serbia.

"This means Thaci is ready to meet Nikolic and Dacic," he said.

Arben Gashi of the main opposition party said the meeting breached Kosovo's constitution that says a Kosovo official can only meet counterparts that recognise Kosovo as an independent state.