Protesters from the Kosovo Vetëvendosje opposition party clash with police forces during a demonstration in Priština on May 12 during a landmark visit by Serbia's chief negotiator Borko Stefanovic to meet Kosovar authorities.
When talks began between Serbia and Kosovo in March 2011, there was palpable relief in the international camps on both sides of the issue that calls for calm dialogue appeared to have been heeded.
But recent events have exposed how sensitive the Kosovo status issue remains – even among Priština and its allies, who deny that there even is a status issue.
A fourth round of talks between Belgrade’s negotiating team, headed by Borislav Stefanović, and that of Priština, led by Kosovo deputy prime minister Edita Tahiri, proceeded on May 17 and 18. Issues on the agenda reportedly included the fate of missing people, as well as cultural heritage matters.
According to local media, both Stefanović and Tahiri expressed optimism ahead of the fourth round that some issues would be closed.
"It is realistic for us to reach an agreement on the issues of cadastre books, birth registries and freedom of movement," Stefanović was quoted as saying by Serbian media. Tahiri expected that considerable progress would be made in several important fields including freedom of movement, freedom of trade and energy.
But renewed talk of partition threw the cat among the pigeons.
Leading Serbian daily Blic, quoting a government source in Belgrade, said that the international community was considering three options as a possible outcome of agreement between the two sides.
One was partition of Kosovo, one was the status quo and another a "two Germanies" model by which Belgrade would not recognise Kosovo and Priština would not get United Nations membership.
According to the report, the Serbian government source said that partition was not being rejected as a possible solution achieved through dialogue.
Compounding matters, Serbian deputy prime Ivica Dacic was quoted as saying that, speaking as someone born in Kosovo, he supported the setting of a border line.
Dacic, leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia, retreated when controversy erupted about the quotation attributed to him.
Oliver Ivanovic, state secretary in Serbia’s ministry for Kosovo, said on May 17 that partitioning Kosovo was not Serbia’s position because it would result in an exodus of Serbs living south of the Ibër river.
Washington’s envoy in Priština, Christopher Dell – the United States is a leading champion of Kosovo’s independence – rejected the idea of partitioning Kosovo.
"Of course not," he was quoted by Kosovo dailies as saying. "Kosovo has a single legal system, one constitution that covers the entire territory and in no manner can Kosovo have two systems," Dell said.
The same day, Dacic said that his stand on separation – he insisted that he had not used the word division – of Kosovo into ethnic Albanian and ethnic Serbian areas was his personal view and he was not changing Serbia’s state policy.
He said that he had been speaking about a possible compromise: "Basically, I believe that this idea of separation may be a compromise that the people of Serbia should vote on," Dacic said.
Another episode that illustrated the continuing high emotions associated with Kosovo’s episode came on May 12 when Stefanović went to Priština to meet members of Kosovo’s government, the first such visit since the February 2008 declaration of independence.
Police and protesters were injured in a clash when about 100 people, reportedly mostly members of the Kosovo radical nationalist Vetëvendosje ("self-determination") movement threw stones and bottles filled with red paint at police escorting Stefanović.
After his visit, Stefanović had hard words for Kosovo. "Priština has no other ideas and fears every proposal. It is evident that their so-called independence is not functioning despite all the support from the most powerful world countries," he told Belgrade’s Politika.
Tahiri, quoted by Kosovo daily Koha Ditore on May 16, said that Serbia was making efforts to change the character of the dialogue even though, she said, the government of Serbia, like that of Kosovo, had agreed in Brussels to discuss only technical issues.
"I can say thatPriština, namely the Kosovo delegation in technical dialogue continuously offers advanced proposals in line with the constitution of Kosovo and Euro-Atlantic principles and is focused on the agenda of the dialogue, which in turn focuses on technical issues. Meanwhile, Belgrade has a tendency to sidestep the official agenda on technical issues and tries to move to political subjects and this is the difference between the two delegations," Tahiri said.
The following day, Stefanović was reported by Serbian news agency Beta as saying that it was possible for all topics, not just technical issues, to be discussed.
"It is completely inaccurate that the two sides, as Priština says, agreed only to discuss technical issues," Stefanović said.
Meanwhile, European Commission President Jose Barroso and European Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner Stefan Füle were scheduled to include Belgrade and Priština in stops on May 19 and 20 during a Western Balkans tour.
Reports said that the two senior EU figures would be issuing messages of encouragement for the EU prospects of Serbia and of Kosovo, while urging reforms in the two countries; in the case of Kosovo, a call to step up the fight against organised crime and corruption; in Serbia, the risk that the Schengen-visa free for concessions could be suspended because of abuses by Serbian citizens; and in both countries, the bilateral dialogue between them.