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news 14 Mar 13

Dispute Over Judges Delays North Kosovo Deal

Serbian and Kosovo officials have agreed on the executive powers to be ceded to the Serb-run north of Kosovo - but are still at odds over who will appoint judges there, an EU diplomat told Balkan Insight.

BIRN Belgrade

Kosovo and Serbia officials are at odds over who, besides the EU mission EULEX, will appoint judges in the Serb-run north of Kosovo, the Kosovo Serbs themselves or the Pristina authorities, Balkan Insight has learned from an EU diplomat.

The source said that the two sides had already agreed on executive powers for a future "Association of Serbian Municipalities", which will replace the Serbian-financed "parallel" institutions, and operate under the overall control of Pristina.

The EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, arrived in Belgrade from Kosovo on Thursday afternoon to try to resolve the future shape of the judicial system in the Serb-run north of Kosovo.

In Pristina, Ashton met the Kosovo President, Atifete Jahjaga, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and opposition leaders.

"We spoke... about the implementation of agreements already reached and about the need to finalise discussions and reach agreements on open issues, notably on northern Kosovo," Ashton said after the meeting.

Meanwhile, Jahjaga said on Thursday that Kosovo had shown it was ready to be “constructive and flexible within its legal framework and the constitution”.

The dispute over the north has been ongoing, and the two sides failed to reach a deal on it in Brussels on March 4.

Kosovo has demanded that Serbia dismantle its so-called "parallel" structures in north, while Serbia wants to see broader autonomy offered for all Serb-populated areas in Kosovo first.

Since the end of the Kosovo conflict in the late 1990s, the region has been beyond Kosovo's control while Serbia has continued to finance local security, judicial, health and educational institutions.

Ahead of the next round of EU-mediated talks due on March 20, Serbian officials travelled to Brussels on Monday to meet with Ashton.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said a deal was within sight, following talks in Brussels in which Kosovo had "relented" over the powers to be given to an "Association of Serbian Municipalities" in Kosovo.

"I'm convinced we are very close, but that now depends on whether people in Pristina are aware that they have to help people or only their political careers," Nikolic said on Monday.

The EU-mediated technical dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia was launched in March 2011. The aim is to normalize relations between the two countries, both of which aspire to EU membership, in the context of Serbia's refusal to recognise Kosovo's independence.

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