GENEVA: Kosovo's president sees only a small chance of a border deal with Serbia emerging soon but it is an opportunity that must be pursued otherwise another decade could slip by, he said after Western Balkan talks in Geneva on Tuesday.
An agreement on a lasting peace between the two countries, including the demarcation of 400 km (250 miles) of border, would open the way to prosperity and closer ties to the European Union, as well as full international recognition for Kosovo, President Hashim Thaci said.
"Although the chances are very slim there's still a good momentum, a good window of opportunity to reach a historic agreement between our two states," he told reporters.
"I understand there are critics but my reply is that if we lose this momentum now we risk entering another decade of unclear perspective, of frozen conflict and status quo."
The fate of ethnic Serb villages in northern Kosovo is one of the main issues of disagreement. Kosovo is a former province of Serbia which declared independence after Serbian forces were driven out by NATO bombing in a war in 1999.
Other leaders of the region also supported the effort to get a deal, he said, adding that there was no reason to fear that it would create a domino effect or represent a "Pandora's Box".
He was speaking at the World Economic Forum in Geneva, after a meeting that included the prime ministers of Serbia, Croatia and Albania, as well as Turkey's foreign minister and Germany's defence minister.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić said the regional leaders, who agreed to hold a summit in 2019, had gathered mainly to talk about how to foster future economic growth.
She said it was not in Serbia's interest to rock the boat.
"However politically, economically, socially stable and strong we are, any regional instability or even perception of instability will actually negatively impact us," she said.
"Serbia has been through a very difficult four years of fiscal consolidation measures. We are now leaving this tunnel, we are seeing the light.”
She declined to discuss the dialogue with Kosovo.
Asked if Serbia would recognise Kosovo, Brnabić said:
"Easy question, easy answer: Yes, I think this is the year we will recognise Kosovo for what it is – the autonomous province of the Republic of Serbia. It’s not an open question, absolutely not."
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Richard Balmforth)