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news 20 Feb 13

Kosovo and Serbia Still Apart on North Kosovo

Ivica Dacic and Hashim Thaci failed to iron out their differences on the Serb-run north of Kosovo - but at least pledged to keep talking.

Bojana Barlovac BIRN Belgrade

At the fifth meeting of the Kosovo and Serbian prime ministers, hosted by the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Hashim Thaci and Ivica Dacic failed to bridge a divide over Serbian-financed institutions in northern Kosovo.

Ashton said after the meeting on Wednesday that the two leaders had returned to their capitals for consultations and would come back to Brussels on 4 March for another meeting.

"The prime ministers are pleased with the significant progress they have made, as am I," Ashton said, optimistically.

Kosovo wants Serbia to dismantle its so-called "parallel" structures in the 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 the Kosovo government's control, while Serbia has continued to finance local security, judicial, health and educational institutions.

Kosovo describes the north as an “oasis of organized crime”, accusing Serbia of obstructing the integration of the area.

The latest round of talks was seen as crucial, and as potentially the toughest for Serbia, as it focused on the Serb-run north of Kosovo.

"Normalisation" of relations with Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, is the EU's main precondition for Serbia as it continues on its path leading to EU membership.

Serbia obtained EU candidate status in March 2012 and is hoping to get a start date for accession talks in June.

Thaci and Dacic have so far agreed a deal on border management, on measures to protect Serbian heritage in Kosovo, and on a feasibility study for a motorway linking the Serbian city of Nis and Pristina in Kosovo.

The two prime ministers have also agreed to exchange liaison officers, step up work on missing persons and on the collection of customs duties, levies and VAT at crossing points in northern Kosovo.

But differing interpretations of many of these issues have raised suspicions about the actual value of these agreements.

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