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article imageKosovo seeks Albanian help to sidestep EU visa demand

By AFP     Oct 11, 2017 in World

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci on Wednesday asked Tirana to smooth the way for Kosovans applying for Albanian citizenship, which would enable them to travel to Europe without visas.

"The European Union's blocking strategy pushed us today to demand the (Albanian) president allow Kosovars to apply for double citizenship in order to get the right to freely travel," Thaci said after meeting his counterpart Ilir Meta, saying the bloc had left Kosovo in "complete isolation".

Kosovo is the last Balkan nation whose citizens require visas to travel into the European Union's passport-free Schengen zone.

But the EU made the matter conditional on Kosovo resolving a long-running border dispute with neighbouring Montenegro which dates back to the 1990s when the former Yugoslavia collapsed in a series of wars.

Such an agreement is crucial for Kosovo's bid to gain visa-free travel and for it to further integrate with the EU, which is a key goal for this tiny Balkan nation of 1.8 million, most of whom are ethnic Albanians.

In 2015, Kosovo reached a border demarcation agreement with Montenegro but the deal was blocked by opposition politicians at the parliament in Pristina, meaning it has never been ratified.

But Thaci's request looked set to ruffle feathers in neighbouring Serbia, which still considers Kosovo to be its southern province and has never recognised Pristina's unilateral declaration of independence in 2008.

Serbia's relationship with Tirana has also been strained by fears in Belgrade of a "Great Albania" -- a nationalist project to unite all Albanians in one state, including Kosovo and parts of Macedonia and Serbia.

No elected Albanian official has ever publicly supported such a project.

Albania's Meta confirmed Tirana had already received a number of citizenship applications from Kosovan nationals and stressed the need to "put an end to the isolation, not to say discrimination that Kosovo citizens are exposed to."

"Of course, the solution is not in taking Albanian citizenship for all citizens of Kosovo... it is about unlocking all of Kosovo's European perspective," Meta said.

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