February 16, 2018 / 1:58 PM / 4 months ago

Kosovo and Montenegro reach deal on 2015 border agreement

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo and Montenegro announced on Friday they had reached a deal on a 2015 border agreement between the two countries, a step towards Kosovo gaining visa-free travel to the European Union.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said Kosovo’s parliament should now vote to ratify the 2015 demarcation agreement, as Montenegro’s has already done.

Attempts to hold the vote in the past have triggered violence in Kosovo, with MPs releasing tear gas in parliament and angry protesters clashing with the police in the street.

Kosovo’s opposition parties opposed the 2015 agreement because they claimed it wrongly handed over some 8,000 hectares (19,700 acres) of territory to Montenegro.

On Friday, Thaci and Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic signed a joint statement agreeing that experts would examine the agreement and that “mistakes” could be rectified in the future.

“Now there is a possibility to proceed and vote on the deal and open the way to visa liberalisation for the citizens of Kosovo,” Thaci said.

Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who has been the main opponent of the border agreement, hailed the deal announced on Friday.

The European Union’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini also welcomed it.

“This shows that even complicated issues can move forward and now obviously we not only welcome all efforts in the spirit of good neighbourly relations but also we are ready to support the full implementation of this agreement,” she said at a news conference in Sofia.

Kosovo is the only country in the Balkans whose citizens need visas to travel to EU member states. Its regional neighbours Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia obtained visa-free access to Europe’s border-free Schengen zone in 2010.

Kosovo, a country of 1.8 million people, will celebrate its 10th year of independence from Serbia on Saturday. It declared independence in 2008, nearly a decade after NATO air strikes drove out Serbian security forces accused of killing and expelling ethnic Albanian civilians during a counter-insurgency war.

On Thursday, Barbados became the 116th country to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

Additional reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova in Sofia; editing by Larry King

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