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Kosovo lifts Serbia trade sanctions, Belgrade calls it ‘fake news’

Kosovo on Wednesday lifted its punitive trade tariffs against Serbia, bowing to EU and US pressure a year and a half after instituting them.

Pristina, 1 April 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Kosovo on Wednesday lifted its punitive trade tariffs against Serbia, bowing to EU and US pressure a year and a half after instituting them.

Kosovo’s caretaker Prime Minister Albin Kurti said that he conditionally revoked the 100-per-cent tax on all imports from Serbia, expecting “reciprocity.”

The situation will be reviewed monthly until June 15, when the measure could be repealed or reinstituted, he told a news conference.

“Reciprocity” means that Kosovo will handle Serbian imports as Serbia handles Kosovo’s. Pristina says that Serbia is effectively blocking imports from Kosovo by using harassment techniques at border crossings.

Former premier Ramush Haradinaj imposed the sanctions in November 2018 to punish Serbia’s so-called de-recognition campaign against Kosovo. Serbia considers Kosovo, which has a mostly Albanian population, to be a breakaway province.

The 2018 move was immediately attacked by Serbia, which said it would not negotiate anything with Kosovo as long as the tariffs stand. The European Union and the United States also reacted with displeasure at the time.

Kurti also came under heavy fire, particularly from the US, when he refused to lift the tariffs immediately after he took over in early January.

By doing so now, he has formally removed a key obstacle to restarting normalization talks brokered by the European Union since 2011. But that seems unlikely to happen soon.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, welcomed “the decision on the full lifting of tariffs” on Twitter, but Belgrade’s spokesperson for Kosovo affairs, Marko Djuric, dismissed Kurti’s statement as “fake news.”

“To be precise, he only announced a temporary and conditioned suspension of the taxes, while introducing punitive measures against Serbian citizens and economy,” Djuric said.

Kosovo is also in disarray politically, with Kurti’s government toppled and a replacement not in sight as leaders in the fragmented parliament continue to bicker for power, using a debate about the best way to respond to the coronavirus epidemic as ammunition.

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