Kosovo, Serbian leaders resume dialogue amid tensions

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Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, left, and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic. (AFP)
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Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, right, with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, in Pristina. Kurz said his country “will support any deal that will be reached between Belgrade and Pristina.” (AP Photo)
Updated 08 November 2018
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Kosovo, Serbian leaders resume dialogue amid tensions

  • EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini met with Kosovo president Hashim Thaci and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic
  • This was their first meeting since July 18, after a scheduled meeting in September between the two presidents fell apart at the last minute

BRUSSELS: Kosovo and Serbia’s presidents met Thursday under EU auspices to resume dialogue aimed at normalizing relations, amid increasing tensions between former foes.
EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was meeting with Kosovo president Hashim Thaci and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic, her spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic tweeted.
This was their first meeting since July 18, after a scheduled meeting in September between the two presidents fell apart at the last minute due to ongoing tensions.
In 2008, a decade after the 1998-1999 war between Serbia’s forces and pro-independence ethnic Albanian guerrillas, Kosovo broke away from Serbia.
Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence, although more than 100 countries, including the United States and most EU member states, have done so.
“In today’s meeting we will reconfirm Kosovo’s full commitment to achieve a legally binding comprehensive agreement with Serbia,” Thaci tweeted ahead of the meeting.
Vucic said he had no big expectations of a breakthrough but said it was necessary to talk, Serbia’s national broadcaster RTS reported, ahead of the meeting.
After the meeting, that lasted less then an hour, Mogherini said it was “decided to remain in constant contact in the coming days to assess the follow up of today’s meeting.”
She urged both sides “to refrain from words, actions and measures that are contrary to the spirit of normalization,” according to a statement released by the EU’s foreign policy service after the meeting.
“The European Union expects Serbia and Kosovo to swiftly deliver on their commitment to the dialogue given the direct link between comprehensive normalization of relations between them and the concrete prospects for their EU aspirations,” Mogherini said.
Both sides need to reach a binding agreement on their ties to make progress toward EU membership.
The talks resumed two days after Kosovo raised taxes on Serbian goods by 10 percent on Tuesday, saying the move was in retaliation for Belgrade’s efforts to thwart recognition of its former province.
Belgrade is also upset with Pristina’s recent decision to form its own army, despite fierce opposition from the ethnic Serb minority and from Serbia. Kosovo’s security is currently ensured by NATO-led KFOR troops.
In addition, the diplomatic deadlock garnered attention over the summer when officials on both sides discussed the possibility of border changes as part of deal to reset ties.
Local media speculated that a Serb-dominated part of Kosovo could be traded for a mostly Albanian region of southern Serbia.
Rights groups have strongly condemned the proposal, warning that redrawing the map could have a dangerous domino effect in the fractured region.
However, some US and European officials have hinted they might accept such a deal.
Earlier this week, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said his country “will support any deal that will be reached between Belgrade and Pristina.
“I assume that the EU will also support it, even if the deal includes a land exchange or border correction deal” between Kosovo and Serbia, Kurz added during a visit to Pristina.


NZ to ban military type semi-automatic weapons

Updated 9 min 49 sec ago
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NZ to ban military type semi-automatic weapons

  • Buy-back scheme costing up to $138 million to be established for banned rifles
  • Ardern said more reforms would cover the firearm registry and licensing

CHRISTCHURCH: New Zealand will ban military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles under tough new gun laws following the killing of 50 people in its worst mass shooting, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday.

In the immediate aftermath of last Friday’s shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch, Ardern labelled the attack as terrorism and said New Zealand’s gun laws would change.

“On March 15, our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too. We are announcing action today on behalf of all New Zealanders to strengthen our gun laws and make our country a safer place,” Ardern told a news conference.

“All semi-automatic weapons used during the terrorist attack on Friday 15 March will be banned.”

Ardern said she expected the new laws to be in place by April 11 and a buy-back scheme costing up to NZ$200 million ($138 million) would be established for banned weapons.

All military style semi-automatics (MSSA) and assault rifles would be banned, along with parts used to convert weapons into MSSAs and all high-capacity magazines.

Under existing gun laws, a standard A-category gun license allows semi-automatics limited to seven shots. Live-streamed video of a gunman in one of the mosques showed a semi-automatic weapon modified with a large magazine.

Australia banned semi-automatic weapons and launched a gun buy-back after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 in which 35 people were killed.

Ardern said that similar to Australia, the law would allow for strictly enforced exemptions for farmers for pest control and animal welfare.

“I strongly believe that the vast majority of legitimate gun owners in New Zealand will understand that these moves are in the national interest, and will take these changes in their stride.”

New Zealand, a country of fewer than 5 million people, has an estimated 1.2-1.5 million firearms, about 13,500 of them MSSA-type weapons.

Ardern said more reforms would cover the firearm registry and licensing.

Nada Tawfeek, who buried her father-in-law killed in the attacks, Hussein Moustafa, on Thursday, welcomed the ban.

“It’s a great reaction. I think other countries need to learn from her,” Tawfeek said.

Mohammed Faqih, a member of the regligious clergy who flew in from California and attended the funerals for some victims on Thursday, said he was “extremely grateful” for the gun ban.

“I wish our leaders in the States would follow on her footsteps and do the same thing,” he said.

The first victims were buried on Wednesday and burials continued on Thursday, with the funeral of a school boy. A mass burial is expected on Friday.

The bullet-riddled Al-Noor Mosque was being repaired, painted and cleaned ahead of Friday prayers.

Ardern will attend the Muslim call to prayer and a two-minute silence at Hagley Park, opposite the mosque. The call to prayer will be telecast nationally.

Armed police have been guarding mosques around New Zealand since the attacks. Police said there would be a “heightened presence” on Friday to reassure those attending weekly prayers.

Thousands of worshippers are expected at the Al-Noor Mosque, where the majority of victims died.

Most victims were migrants or refugees from countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Somalia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist who was living in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island, has been charged with murder following the attack.

He was remanded without a plea and is due back in court on April 5, when police said he was likely to face more charges.

Twenty-eight people wounded in the attacks remain in hospital, six in intensive care.