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France's Macron vows to help restart Serbia-Kosovo talks

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron vowed Monday to help jumpstart stalled negotiations to resolve Serbia's independence dispute with former province Kosovo so a lasting solution can be found for the decades-long Balkan crisis.

Macron, making the first visit to Serbia by a French president since 2001, also expressed support for the country's stated goal of joining the European Union even as he reiterated his belief that the EU must adopt reforms before adding more members.

His two-day trip was intended to rebuild relations between Serbia and France. Their historically close ties were damaged when NATO forces bombed Serbia in 1999 over the country's actions in Kosovo and by France's recognition of Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a country. But the EU has set normalized relations between the two countries as a condition for advancing to EU membership. But talks mediated by EU officials have been stalled for months.

Macron said France and Europe would get more engaged in facilitating an end to the bitter rift, which stems from the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. "Whoever believes in Europe cannot accept the inevitability of never-ending and inextricable conflicts in Europe," Macron said at a news conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. "Our commitment is the reflection of a European sovereignty in which we believe and that will stand by your side."

Serbia has officially been on the path to becoming an EU member since 2008. The country also maintains close ties with Russia and China, whose mounting influence in the Balkans has raised Western concerns.

Macron urged Belgrade to keep making the reforms it needs for EU membership, saying Serbia's candidacy could progress in parallel to the EU's own improvement process. "It's a process that's been started but it must be kept in check on both sides," he said. "I think it's a good thing."

Serbia's president said a compromise in the Kosovo dispute was "the only possible solution." "I urged France to help us on our European road and in solving the Kosovo crisis," Vucic said of his meeting with Macron.

Macron's visit originally was planned for December and postponed amid massive street protests in Paris.

AP Writer Elaine Ganley contributed from Paris.

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