Western Balkans summit urges Serbia-Kosovo dialogue

                       By Ayhan Simsek </p>  <p>BERLIN (AA) - French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday urged Serbia and Kosovo to resume talks amid rising tensions between the two Balkan states. </p>  <p>Alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron told reporters that Western Balkans meeting, a joint Franco-German initiative, would discuss Serbia-Kosovo tensions, stability in the region and EU perspective of these countries. </p>  <p>“We would like to see the resumption of dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. We do not have the intention to dictate any solution to Belgrad and Pristina,” said Macron. “We want to look at all possible options and try to have a less emotional discussion.” </p>  <p>An EU-facilitated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo has been suspended since November, after Belgrad protested Pristina’s decision to raise tariffs on all Serbian goods. </p>  <p>The German Chancellor reaffirmed support for the EU perspective on the Western Balkan states.  </p>  <p>“It is in our interest, it is in the interest of Europe, to see positive developments in this region,” she said. </p>  <p>Merkel and Macron are hosting leaders of Western Balkans countries in Berlin for an informal summit to discuss resumption of Serbia-Kosovo dialogue, security issues and economic cooperation in the region. </p>  <p>They invited leaders of EU members Croatia and Slovenia, and six other Balkan nations -- Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro, -- all of which aspire to join the EU, but face various political or economic hurdles. </p>  <p>The Franco-German initiative came at a time of mounting criticism over China’s influence in the Balkans and its ambitious New Silk Road project. </p>  <p>French and German politicians have expressed skepticism over enhanced political and economic cooperation between Western Balkan states and regional actors such as Russia and Turkey in recent years. </p>  <p> 

Turkey gives Serbia devices to fight human smuggling

             By Talha Ozturk

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina (AA) – Turkey on Wednesday gave Serbia a high-tech edge against human smuggling.

Serbian border police received two carbon dioxide measuring devices from Turkey with a ceremony at the Batrovci border crossing between Serbia and Croatia.

Turkey's Deputy Interior Minister Muhterem Ince and Dijana Hrkalovic, the state secretary of Serbia’s Interior Ministry, as well as Turkish Ambassador to Serbia Tanju Bilgic took part in the ceremony.

Ince said that the devices — which can detect hidden people being smuggled through carbon dioxide levels — will greatly help in the fight against human smuggling.

Hrkalovic said the devices will greatly reduce difficulties on the border.

Earlier, Ince met with Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic during his visit to Serbia.

Both Ince and Stefanovic agreed that cooperation between the two countries would be strengthened in the fight against terrorism, organized crime, and illegal immigration.

Turkey returns griffon vulture to Serbian home

             By Talha Ozturk

BELGRADE, Serbia (AA) – Turkish authorities returned an endangered griffon vulture Friday to Serbia after it was found in Turkey.

Dobrila was found wounded in the southeastern Turkish province of Sanliurfa in December.

The Turkish Gendarmerie teams handed Dobrila to the Directorate of Nature Conservation and National Parks in the province with local and international press on hand to witness the exchange.

Researches found Dobrila is at risk of extinction and her origin is Serbia.

Dobrila was brought to Belgrade by Turkish Cargo where she was welcomed by Turkey's Ambassador Tanju Bilgic and Serbian Environment Minister Goran Trivan.

Bilgic said returning Dobrila to her homeland is an indication of good relations between Turkey and Serbia.

"We are delighted that our operation has been successfully completed," said Bilgic.

He said the bird could not return home alone and authorities requested assistance from Turkish Airlines.

Trivan thanked Turkey for providing medical treatment for Dobrila.

"We have about 500 griffon vultures in Uvac Special Nature Reserve,” said Trivan. “The Return of Dobrila is an indication that the two countries [have] joint efforts for very beautiful and special things."

Dorbila will soon be released to its natural habitat at the Uvac Special Nature Reserve in the southwestern Serbia.

Serbian city adopts Turkey-designed transport system

By Talha Ozturk

KRAGUJEVAC, Serbia (AA) – Kragujevac, one of Serbia's largest cities, has adopted a transportation system developed by a Turkish company.

The system was developed by Kentkart Ege Elektronik, a firm which offers smart solutions for public transport.

It includes a mobile aplication which is used to track transportation via GPS, digital tickets and information screens in the vehicles.

The system was inaugurated on Wednesday by Mayor Radomir Nikolic, Turkey's ambassador in Belgrade Tanju Bilgic, and company officials.

Bilgic said that it was a great pleasure to see Turkey's urban transport system card being used in Serbia.

"We are aiming to increase Turkish investments in Kragujevac," said Bilgic.

Nikolic emphasized that the city has the most modern transportation system in the region.

"The new cards will also include museums, galleries and pool entrances in the near future," said Nikolic.

Bilgic and Nikolic later held a business meeting to discuss ways to improve cooperation in various fields.

The firm previously implemented the same system in Serbia's capital Belgrade.

Serbia's leader congratulates Erdogan's local vote win

            By Talha Ozturk</p>    <p>BELGRADE, Serbia (AA) - Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic congratulated his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his party's victory in the local elections on Sunday.</p>    <p>Vucic called Erdogan after early unofficial results were released showing the Justice and Development (AK) Party won nearly 45 percent of the vote in local elections.</p>    <p>The president said he looked forward to continuing cooperation between the two countries as Serbia attached great importance to its &quot;true friendship&quot; with Turkey, and is committed to good and solid bilateral relations.</p>    <p>Serbia would remain a reliable partner to Turkey and the two countries would further develop political relations and expand economic and all other forms of cooperation with mutual understanding and respect, he added.</p>    <p>Vucic also said he anticipated Erdogan's next visit his country to commemorate the 140th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Belgrade and Ankara, and to discuss concrete projects.</p>    <p>Earlier, millions of Turkish voters cast their votes in the local elections to choose Turkey’s mayors, city council members, mukhtars (neighborhood officials), and members of elder councils for the next five years.</p>  <p> 

Fruitful negotiations at Romania summit: Turkish VP

By Mumin Altas

ANKARA (AA) – Turkish Vice President has said parties at a quadrilateral summit that took place in Romania on Friday had productive negotiations.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Fuat Oktay said: “Within the scope of the summit we expressed issues such as our expectations from the EU, regional cooperation in the Balkans, energy and migration issues, as well as xenophobia and Islamophobia.”

“Turkey has the potential to contribute to the stability of a wide geography, which is why the Balkans are important,” the vice president said.

Oktay emphasized on maintaining strong relations with Turkish ancestors and compatriots.

“The establishment of a lasting peace and cooperation environment in the Balkans concerns Turkey,” he said.

“Due to its history, cultural ties and common economic interest within the region, Turkey would also benefit from the stability and peace in the Balkans,” Oktay said.

The Turkish vice president hailed Romania on Friday for supporting Ankara’s efforts to establish “constructive” relations with the European Union. Romania holds the EU’s rotating presidency until June 30.

Oktay made the comments at a joint press conference in Bucharest with Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila.

Following the press conference, Oktay met with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on the sidelines of the quadrilateral meeting of Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia.

The meeting, which was closed to the press, lasted for 30 minutes.

*Writing By Dilara Hamit

Terror has no connection with history of Balkans: envoy

By Vakkas Dogantekin

ANKARA (AA) – The Serbian envoy to Turkey has condemned the "terrorist attack" in New Zealand that killed at least 50 Muslims at their place of worship and called it an "act of a complete lunatic".

"There is no rational explanation for what he did. He named many historical figures on his gun connected to the different era and to totally different context.

"Only the sick person could make the connection between his mad, sick, criminal and totally unacceptable act with the history of Balkans," Zoran Markovic told Anadolu Agency on Saturday.

A gunman opened fire on worshippers during Friday prayers at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch.

Footage of the terrorist shows Serb nationalist symbols and song praising convicted Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic.

"We deeply disagree with any kind of violence and terrorism of any kind. I, personally, yesterday evening expressed my condolences to my New Zealand colleague and sympathies with families of victims, as well as my Government," said Markovic.

"Turkish public should know that this mad mass killer has no single connection with our region, especially not to Serbia. He should have been previously treated by competent social and medical institutions. Such disasters wouldn't happen then. Unfortunately, there are many unadjusted people all around the globe," said Markovic.

He added: "Putting this mass killer in any connection with Serbia is bad-intentioned and caused by intention to spoil excellent relations between Turkey and Serbia."

Serbia receives 4 MiG-29 jets from Belarus

                By Talha Ozturk</p>    <p>BELGRADE, Serbia (AA) - Serbia on Monday received four MiG-29 aircraft from Belarus.</p>  <p> </p>  <p>A delegation of the Serbian Ministry of Defense and Air Force, led by Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin, attended the handover ceremony in western Belarus.</p>    <p>Speaking at the ceremony in Baranovichi city, Vulin underlined that Belarus' military technical aid is of great importance for his country.</p>    <p>&quot;We can freely say that we now have 14 MiG-29, which is a number that we could not dream of in 2012 when President Vucic became Minister of Defense at that time. His personal relations with President Lukashenko [of Belarus] showed how important they are,&quot; he said.</p>    <p>Vulin also said the two countries share military and economic cooperation.</p>    <p>&quot;There is also a number of military and economic projects between our countries. We are interested in certain technologies that Belarus has but we also have something to offer -- products of the Serbian defense industry,” he added.</p>    <p>The new MiG-29 aircraft will be overhauled and their first phase of the modernization would be completed in Belarus.

Kosovo marks 11th anniversary of its independence

By Talha Ozturk and Cihad Aliu

BELGRADE, Serbia (AA) – Europe's youngest country Kosovo on Saturday marked 11 years of its independence.

Kosovo got an early taste of its future in 1945 as "the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija" within socialist Yugoslavia. Later, in 1968, it became the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo.

Yugoslavia’s new Constitution in 1974 enabled the province to function at every administrative level independently of its host republic within Yugoslavia.

In the late 1980s Slobodan Milosevic — then Serbia’s president within Yugoslavia, before dying decades later in 2006 while on trial for war crimes — effectively terminated the 1974 privileges, saying they were contrary to the interests of Serbs.

Milosevic's move drew criticism from the other Yugoslav republics.

In response, in 1990 the Kosovo Assembly voted to declare Kosovo an independent state.

The assembly's vote was recognized by Albania.

Later, conflicts between Serbian forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which was founded in 1991, played an important role in the country’s move towards independence.

The conflict escalated into the Kosovo war, which lasted from February 1998 until June 1999. The war ended after NATO intervention in the form of an extensive bombing campaign, including targets in Kosovo.

  • Tense years toward independence

Since the war in Kosovo, Serbia and Kosovo saw periodic tensions.

The first major crisis after the war was in 2004. These events, called the March Uprisings, resulted in the death of 19 people — 11 Albanians and eight Serbs — while hundreds were injured.

After the uprisings, a 2005 report by Kai Eide, appointed Kosovo envoy by then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, recommended negotiations on the final status of Kosovo.

Kosovo’s assembly declared its independence from Serbia on Feb. 17, 2008 despite opposition from the body’s Serbian members.

Belgrade insists the country remains part of Serbia.

Kosovo is now recognized by over 100 countries, including the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, and Turkey.

Serbia, Russia, and China are among the countries which have yet to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

– Dialogue with Serbia

In 2011, the European Union initiated a dialogue process to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia. However, the process was interrupted by tensions over the last few years.

The killing of Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic in Mitrovica, a northern city of Kosovo, in mid-January last year, was the first incident to escalate tensions.

Serbia withdrew from a meeting as part of the dialogue process scheduled to take place in Brussels.

Another event is the detention of Director of the Serbian Government's Kosovo Office Marko Djuric on March 26, 2018 in North Mitrovica.

  • Serbian obstacle to Kosovo's accession to INTERPOL

The fact that Kosovo was not accepted as a member of the 87th International Police Organization (INTERPOL) at the General Assembly Meeting held in the United Arab Emirates on Nov. 20, 2018 also brought a different dimension to the crisis between the two countries.

  • Customs duty crisis

Kosovo imposed 100 percent customs duty on products imported from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, until Serbia recognizes its independence.

Even though the EU and the United States urge Kosovo to withdraw its tax decision as soon as possible, Kosovo continues to ignore these calls.

  • Establishment of the Kosovo army

The adoption of a draft law on the conversion of the Kosovo Security Force (FSK) into an army on Dec. 14, 2018 resulted in a new crisis.

The EU and the United States said they want the Kosovo army's transformation to be gradual.

Kosovo has a population of nearly 1.8 million people. Albanians constitute the vast majority, but it also includes various minority groups such as Turks, Bosniaks, Serbs, Goranis, Roma, Ashkalis, and Egyptians.

Turkey, Serbia should target $2B trade volume: Minister

            By Muhammet Ikbal Arslan</p>  <p>ANKARA (AA) - Turkey and Serbia should aim to increase their bilateral trade volume to $2 billion in the near future, Turkish Minister of Youth and Sports Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoglu said Tuesday.</p>  <p>“As our presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan [of Turkey] and Aleksandar Vucic [of Serbia] agreed, our aim should be increasing the bilateral trade volume between Turkey and Serbia to a level of $2 billion as soon as possible,” Kasapoglu told a reception marking Serbia’s National Day, Serbian Armed Forces Day and the 140th anniversary of Turkish-Serbian diplomatic relations.</p>  <p>Kasapoglu said it was a welcome development that bilateral trade volume surpassed $1 billion for the first time in 2017, adding the two countries have a serious potential to improve economic and trade relations.</p>  <p>“Serbia is a valued friend of our country and a partner with whom we have strong cooperation for improving prosperity and stability in the Balkans,” he said.</p>  <p>Noting that fruitful dialogue between the two countries was of great importance for the establishment of security in the region, Kasapoglu added: “We have full belief in our friend Serbia that its support for our country’s efforts to eliminate FETO [the Fetullah Terrorist Organization] will increasingly continue in the coming period.”</p>  <p>FETO and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gulen orchestrated the defeated coup of July 15, 2016 which left 251 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.</p>  <p>Ankara also accuses FETO of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary.</p>  <p>Serbia’s Ambassador to Turkey, Zoran Markovic, for his part said his country wants to improve relations with Turkey, adding the two countries share common roots, history and culture.</p>  <p>Praising relations between Ankara and Belgrade, Markovic said: “We have a dialogue that ensures the highest level of lasting and mutual benefit.”