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Kosovo-Serbia rail, road deals signed at security conference

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Serbia and Kosovo on Friday signed U.S.-brokered deals on restoring railway and highway links. The deals were signed during an international security conference in Munich, Germany, said Richard Grenell, U.S. President Donald Trump’s envoy in the talks.

“Today’s historic agreements to develop railway and motorway connections between Belgrade and Pristina will help facilitate the flow of people and goods between Serbia and Kosovo,” Grenell told the Associated Press at the Munich Security Conference.

The U.S. envoy said that the new agreements “build on the one signed last month to reestablish direct flights between the two capital cities for the first time in 21 years.” A separate deal on resuming air links was signed last month. Details and timing for the application of the agreements are yet to be known.

Both countries' leaders were present at the signing ceremony together with Grenell and hailed the deals. “I am happy to see progress today and many thanks to President Trump and Richard Grenell on behalf of Serbia, because we feel we will have a better future because of this and that we will ensure peace for future decades,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said.

“Another milestone!” Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said on Twitter. “A great step towards reaching a final peace agreement.” But Kosovo's new prime minister, Albin Kurti, complained that the signatory officials were from the old Cabinet and not authorized by the new one.

A statement from his office complained of the lack of transparency of the deal, saying that “it is very important that the process be transparent, the result of pure negotiations and in full respect of the country's laws and sovereignty.”

Kurti of the left-wing Self-Determination Movement, or Vetevendosje!, came to power earlier this month following lengthy talks on a governing coalition, pledging to fight crime and corruption. Resuming dialogue with Serbia over normalizing ties, stalled since the previous government set a 100% tariff on Serb goods, remains a top challenge.

Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, was appointed by Trump in October as the special envoy to talks to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia. The European Union-mediated negotiations started in 2011 but have been stalled since Kosovo imposed a trade tax on Serbian goods in 2018.

Serbia does not accept Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence, although its former province has been recognized by about 100 countries, including the United States and most EU nations. Serbia's brutal intervention against Kosovo's independence-seeking ethnic Albanians in 1998-99 prompted NATO to intervene to stop the conflict. Relations have remained tense ever since.

In a letter sent to Thaci for Kosovo's 12th anniversary of its independence, Trump urged Kosovo and Serbia to focus on normalizing their ties. “We wish you success in the coming year as you focus on normalizing relations with Serbia, strengthening the rule of law and creating conditions for vibrant private-sector growth,” Trump wrote, according to Thaci's office.

Associated Press writers Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, and David Rising contributed in Munich, Germany, contributed to this report.

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