The idea of a “land swap” between Serbia and Kosovo to settle their long-running dispute has stirred passions as the prospect of a new round of talks between the former foes was reported.
The proposal could see part of southern Serbia centred on the ethnic Albanian-dominated city of Presevo transferred to Kosovo, while the Serb-dominated northern part of Kosovo, around Mitrovica, would become part of Serbia.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovan leader Hashim Thaci had been expected to meet in Brussels as part of efforts to normalise relations in the region still riven by tensions from the 1998-99 war, but Serbian officials said they “will not talk today”.
Marko Djuric, a senior Serbian negotiator at the European Union-brokered talks, said in Brussels that Mr Vucic “will not talk today with the representatives of Pristina”.
“There are not minimum conditions to talk to the representatives of Pristina today,” he added.
Mr Vucic and Mr Thaci held separate meetings with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who is the mediator in the talks.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and is recognised as a nation by more than 100 countries, but Serbia does not recognise it, and neither do five EU countries: Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.
Serbia and Kosovo have been told they must sort out their differences if they want to advance towards EU membership.
Officials from both nations have suggested a land swap could be a good idea, but there is opposition inside both countries and internationally.
There are concerns that changes to the borders could trigger similar demands in Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro, nations which were also formed after the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Germany and some of its EU partners also have voiced fears this could open up old wounds in the Balkans rather than resolving their long-standing differences.
Although there are no fixed proposals on the table, the most commonly mentioned ideas always involve the so-called Presevo Valley area of Serbia, to be swapped for Kosovo’s Serb-populated north.
Zoran Ostojic, an analyst from Belgrade, believes the meeting in Brussels will not result in an immediate breakthrough.
Mr Vucic and Mr Thaci are “testing the ground, primarily with the international community” by floating the idea, he said.
“Who knows where that could end?” Mr Ostojic warned, echoing fears of a chain reaction throughout the Balkans.
The 1998-99 war erupted when Kosovo separatists launched a rebellion to split from Serbia after Belgrade had stripped the region of its self-rule.
More than 10,000 people died in the conflict before Nato forced Serbia to pull out of the territory.