US Urges Kosovo, Serbia to Hold Talks

US Urges Kosovo, Serbia to Hold Talks

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) -- The United States on Wednesday strongly condemned the recent friction between Kosovo and Serbia, saying it could "unnecessarily heighten tensions and threaten regional stability."

Marko Djuric, the head of the Serbian government office for Kosovo, was briefly detained in the divided town of Mitrovica on Monday because he entered the country without Kosovo's official approval. He was expelled under police escort.

The following day, Russia became involved in the dispute and the European Union sent its foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on an urgent trip to Belgrade.

A statement from the U.S. Department of State Wednesday urged all parties to avoid further escalation and resolve disputes peacefully.

"To create lasting peace and stability in the Balkans, both Kosovo and Serbia need to focus on normalizing relations through the EU-led Dialogue," spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, adding that Washington was ready to support dialogue negotiations.

Mogherini urged both countries to show "calm, wisdom, restraint and leadership," adding it is in Serbia's interest "to preserve stability, peace and to progress on the EU path."

Serbia and Kosovo both hope to become EU members but are at different stages in the integration process.

Moscow's Foreign Ministry accused the EU and the U.S. of wanting "to crudely suppress" attempts by Kosovo Serbs to "safeguard their legitimate interests."

Russia has been trying to expand its influence in the Balkans mainly through its traditional Slavic ally Serbia.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, against Belgrade's wishes, in 2008. In 1999, NATO intervened to stop a bloody Serb crackdown against Kosovo Albanian separatists.

(KA)