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article imageSerbia's new president calls for 'dialogue' over Kosovo

By AFP     May 31, 2017 in World

Serbia's Aleksandar Vucic, who was sworn in as the country's president on Wednesday, wants to open a debate over the future of Kosovo, the breakaway province whose independence Belgrade has refused to recognise.

"I will preserve Serbia's integrity but I will always accept talks with Kosovo Albanians," Vucic told lawmakers after taking his oath of office in parliament.

"I want that we open an internal dialogue over Kosovo... without prejudices, while respecting our constitution" which says Kosovo is part of Serbia, he said, adding that Serbia "should get rid of a mythic approach towards Kosovo."

Many Serbs consider Kosovo the cradle of their country's history, religion and culture.

Its independence was declared a decade after the 1998-1999 war between ethnic Albanian Kosovo rebels and Serbian armed forces, a conflict that claimed 13,000 lives, of which 10,000 were ethnic Albanians.

The Serbian forces, led by Slobodan Milosevic, were eventually ousted from the breakaway territory after a three-month NATO bombing campaign.

But 100,000 to 150,000 Serbs remained in Kosovo, mainly in the northern region of Mitrovica, under supervision of NATO-led troops.

Vucic, a former hardline nationalist, won the presidential election in April with a pledge to pursue Serbia's bid for EU membership, while maintaining ties with Russia.

Kosovo is also hoping to join the EU, and both sides agreed in 2011 to open talks aimed at normalising ties, under the auspices of the European Union.

"There should be no doubt into the European path to which we are dedicated," Vucic said.

Kosovo's independence has been recognised by over 110 countries, but not by Russia nor by five EU members: Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Slovakia and Romania.

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