US Vice President Joe Biden to make farewell Balkans visit

August 15, 2016

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Joe Biden is scheduled to be in Serbia and Kosovo this week for his final visit as U.S. vice president to the Balkans, where he played an important role in ending the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s.

Biden plans to be in Belgrade on Tuesday for a meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and President Tomislav Nikolic, both members of Serbia’s government during a bloody crackdown against Albanian separatists in 1999.

The vice president’s visit underscores the U.S. government’s desire to maintain influence in the Balkans as Moscow works to keep Serbia — one of Russia’s last remaining ex-communist allies in the region — within its fold.

The trip also highlights Washington’s worry about the slow pace of regional reconciliation 17 years after a U.S.-led NATO air war stopped the Serbian offensive in Kosovo.

Biden will be in Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, on Tuesday night. In Pristina, he is expected to urge Kosovo leaders to implement an EU-sponsored agreement from 2015 that was meant to normalize relations between the breakaway state and Serbia.

Kosovo is predominantly Muslim, but strongly pro-American. Serbia — which does not recognize Kosovo’s statehood — is seeking European Union membership, but has maintained strong ties with its traditional ally Russia.

The unresolved murders of three Albanian-American brothers in Serbia after the end of the war in Kosovo are expected to be high on the agenda during Biden’s talks with Serbian leaders.

The brothers — Ylli, Mehmet and Agron Bytyqi — left their New York pizza business to fight with ethnic Albanian rebels against Serbia’s rule in Kosovo. The U.S. citizens were arrested at the end of the clashes when they strayed into central Serbia. Their bodies were discovered in a mass grave in 2001.

As a senator, Biden was a strong advocate of the NATO bombing of Serbia in the 1990s. He once said that his work to end the Yugoslav wars was one of the “proudest moments” of his long political career.

In Kosovo, Biden also will attend a ceremony naming a street near an American military base after his late son, Beau Biden, who died last year of brain cancer at age 46. Beau Biden served in 2001 as an interim legal adviser on post-war Kosovo.

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