The Kosovo War Missing Persons Agreement

Tuesday’s meeting between Vucic (left) and Kurti (right). Josep Borrell is second from the right (AP Photo/Fred Sierakowski)

It was done by the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo and affects over 1,600 people who were probably buried in mass graves

During a meeting in Brussels, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti made a deal for the search for the very many people who disappeared during the 1998-99 war between the two countries, who were probably buried in unidentified mass graves. During the war, more than 13,000 people died, and according to the European Union, 1,621 people have disappeared.

The agreement on missing persons is part of a laborious process of normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, which has been carried out for months in a series of meetings in Brussels with the support and patronage of the European Union. The main agreement was reached, at least verbally, in mid-March, when the two countries they had accepted a proposal from the European Commission to at least partially normalize relations, even if Serbia still does not recognize the sovereignty of Kosovo. Vucic and Kurti still continue to meet periodically in Brussels to try to resolve the many problems that still divide the two governments.

Kosovo is a former Serbian province whose population is majority Muslim and ethnic Albanian (as opposed to the Serb population, which is majority Orthodox Christian and Slavic). Between 1998 and 1999, a war was fought between the Yugoslav army, controlled by the Serbs, and the Kosovar Albanian rebels, who wanted to separate. The conflict ended after the intervention of NATO, which bombed Serbia forcing its forces to withdraw from Kosovar territory. In 2008 Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, which was recognized by the United States and part of the European Union, but not by Serbia and its allied countries, such as Russia and China.

Since then, relations between Serbia and Kosovo have remained extremely tense, with frequent political clashes and sporadic episodes of violence.

For months the European Commission, and in particular the High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell, have been working on a laborious negotiation process for the normalization of relations, and finally reached a preliminary agreement in March, which provides, among other things, that Serbia does not oppose Kosovo’s entry into international institutions, and that Kosovo grants political autonomy to the Serbian minority living in the country. However, the agreement cannot be considered definitive, because there are still many unresolved aspects.

Until Tuesday, the issue of people who disappeared during the war was one of them: during the war there were serious massacres on both sides, and thousands of civilians were killed in unclear conditions. In Brussels, the leaders of the two countries pledged to cooperate closely in the identification of burial sites, to share all the information necessary for their discovery and to use advanced technologies to find the places of mass graves that have not yet been identified.

A joint commission, chaired by the European Union, will also be set up to support efforts to identify missing persons.

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