PRISTINA (Reuters) – The European Union will not lift political and economic sanctions on Kosovo unless the government de-escalates tensions with ethnic Serbs, EU envoy Miroslav Lajcak said on Tuesday during a visit in Pristina.

EU countries imposed punitive measures on ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo after Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s government failed to heed EU and U.S. requests to defuse strife in the country’s north following the worst clashes in over a decade.

The measures include halting visits by Kosovo officials to the EU and a suspension of a large part of EU economic aid to the small Balkan republic, and Brussels has warned of further measures if Kurti does not act to ease the tensions.

“My wish is not to have sanctions,” Lajcak told reporters in Pristina after a three-hour meeting with Kurti. “The purpose of this mission, of course, and the discussion that we are having, is to get to the stage when these measures will be stopped.”

In a statement, Kurti said he told Lajcak that “the EU’s punitive measures against Kosovo are unfair and make the dialogue asymmetrical”.

Violence in north Kosovo, where 50,000 Serbs live and form a local majority, erupted in late May after ethnic Albanian mayors took office following a local election boycotted by Serbs demanding implementation of a decade-old deal for more autonomy.

Some 30 NATO peacekeeping soldiers defending three town halls in northern Kosovo were injured in clashes with Serb protesters, and 52 Serbs were hurt.

Lajcak said the EU also wanted Serbia, which north Kosovo Serbs still devote their allegiance 15 years after Pristina declared independence from Belgrade, to act constructively to defuse the crisis, or face penalties as well.

“The European Union has made it clear that it has sanctions also ready for Serbia and that they will be implemented if the member states decide that Serbia is not complying with the EU request,” said Lajcak, who will travel to Belgrade on Wednesday.

The United States and European Union, Kosovo’s main allies, have mainly held Kurti responsible for tensions in the north for having installed four ethnic Albanian mayors in their offices with police protection despite objections from local Serbs.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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