Serbs in Kosovo Quit Cabinet After Fellow Negotiator Expelled

(Bloomberg) -- Ethnic Serbs quit the Kosovo government to protest police breaking up their meeting with a negotiator from Serbia, escalating tension between the two Balkan neighbors.

Their walkout may destabilize the government in Kosovo and undermine European Union-mediated talks with Serbia. Both aspire to join the bloc but must mend ties in order to do so. The escalation comes after a Serb negotiator was briefly detained and expelled on Monday after he ignored warnings not to enter Kosovo with fellow Serbs in a the divided town of Mitrovica. Police used tear gas and stun grenades disrupt the meeting.

Citing the "humiliating" expulsion of negotiator Marko Djuric, Kosovo Serbs walked out of the government, Dalibor Jevtic, Kosovo’s Deputy Premier and one of four Serbs in the cabinet, told reporters in Belgrade on Tuesday.

Kosovo’s 120-seat parliament has 20 seats set aside for ethnic minorities, including 10 for Serbs. Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj won narrow parliamentary backing for his cabinet last year, with 61 votes, amid an opposition boycott. Serbia, backed by Russia and China, refuses to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign affairs and security policy chief, was to meet with Serb officials on Tuesday.

Haradinaj said he won’t resign and urged the Serb representatives to reconsider their move, Beta news agency reported from Pristina.

The EU-brokered talks between Serbia and Kosovo have stalled over implementing a 2013 framework agreement under which Serbia phases out most of its institutions in Serb-populated northern Kosovo, in exchange for some autonomy for the ethnic minority.

Kosovo Serbs will now create own body next month as “it makes no sense to wait for Albanians to help do that after five long years,” Jevtic said. He wouldn’t say how such a body would work without consent from Kosovo’s Albanians.

“This could be a sign of a lasting change of political course by Serbia, but it could also be a temporary political maneuver just to respond to the humiliation,” Djordje Vukadinovic, an analyst at the Belgrade-based New Serbian Political Thought Institute, said by phone.

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