Last updated: April 3, 2013 11:04 am

Serbia-Kosovo partition talks collapse

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Serbia and Kosovo have failed to reach a landmark peace agreement as EU-sponsored talks in Brussels ended in deadlock, underlining the continued divisions between the two countries.

After more than 12 hours, Serbia’s prime minister Ivica Dacic and his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaçi were unable to find a compromise that would help end to years of tension in the Balkans following the bloody break up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, said that in the latest meeting – the eighth and final scheduled meeting since October – the two sides made several proposals but needed to return to their capitals to make further progress.

“The gap between the two sides is very narrow, but deep,” said Lady Ashton. “I wish them a good journey home and every possible success in reaching a conclusion.”

Serbia, which still does not recognise the independence of its former Albanian-majority province since its secession in 2008, wants Kosovo to grant Serbs living in the northern part of the country self-rule, including power to set up their own police force and judiciary.

“We currently have no agreement but we have some additional time to maybe find a solution, to maybe gather impressions after this difficult day,” Mr Dadic told reporters in Brussels after the meeting.

Kosovo, which has been internationally recognised as an independent state by most western powers, remains sceptical about Serbia’s commitment to reaching a fair deal.

“Unfortunately, we still have hesitance on the Serbian side,” said Mr Thaçi, a former guerrilla commander. “[They asked for] additional time for additional consultations . . .[but] the best solution would be to establish good neighbourly relations.”

The two sides fought a bitter war from 1998 to 1999 and ties remain tense since Kosovo declared its independence, particularly in the northern of the young state, where the Serb majority is opposed to Pristina’s rule.

International Crisis Group, a think tank, said in a report ahead of the last round of talks that failure to reach an agreement could have a devastating impact on the ground, as divisions between opposing factions have flared in recent months.

“Attacks increased during the first six weeks of 2013, especially in northern Kosovo,” the ICG said. “Most involved explosive devices, often thrown at persons seen as associated with Kosovo institutions attempting to operate in the North.”

The failure to reach a deal will also continue to block Belgrade’s ambitions to commence talks with Brussels over Serbia’s membership of the EU. The so-called normalisation of ties between the two countries is a precondition for the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm that handles the bloc’s enlargement process, to start EU accession talks.

Lady Ashton will issue a progress report in mid-April, which will form the basis of an EU decision in June whether to launch membership talks with Serbia – a crucial stimulus for reform and signal of stability for investors looking to the biggest economy in the former Yugoslavia.

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