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Ahead of the sixth round of EU-led talks in Brussels, Serbian leaders say the outlines of a compromise solution to the vexed issue of nothern Kosovo are within sight.
Ivica Dacic, Serbia's Prime Minister, and his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Thaci, are to continue their talks on the future of Serbian-financed institutions in northern Kosovo on March 4 in Brussels.
Kosovo wants Serbia to dismantle its so-called "parallel" structures in the north, while Serbia wants to see broader autonomy offered to all Serbian-populated areas in Kosovo first.
Tim Judah on the Kosovo talks
The Economist's Balkan correspondent Tim Judah told Balkan Insight that there is better chance of a deal being struck than not.
"If it is, it will be a sort of "Ahtisaari Plus". That is to say the municipal association may have a few more competences than it could have got just under Ahtisaari.
There is also the question of how it will be elected, ie., will the municipalities be elected like any other Kosovo muncipalities or will the rules for them be slightly different.
For Thaci the immediate political return is less clear as an SAA or visas several years down the line is harder to sell."
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.
Dacic said on March 1 that Serbia was willing to find a compromise solution, adding that Belgrade and Pristina had agreed that forming an association of Serbian municipalities could be one way to overcome disputes about "parallel" institutions in northern Kosovo.
However, he said the two sides still disagreed on the jurisdiction of such an association and on its future connections with Pristina and Belgrade. According to Dacic, Pristina still rejected the idea of giving any real power to the Serbs in north.
The Serbian Prime Minister added that in the event of a deal, Serbia would be willing to see institutions in northern Kosovo transfer some of their powers to the Kosovo Assembly.
“If we fail to reach an agreement with Pristina, that would mean that there was no understanding on the other [Kosovo] side,” Dacic said.
"Normalisation" of relations with Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is the EU's main precondition for Serbia as it continues to pursue EU membership.
Belgrade obtained EU candidate status in March 2012 and is hoping to obtain a start date for accession talks in June.
According to Dacic, the EU foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, will send a report on the progress in the dialogue to the European Council in mid-April.
"Until then, the idea is have some sort of a deal and plan to implement what we have agreed," Dacic said on March 1.
Dacic, Tomislav Nikolic, the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, the Deputy Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vulin, the head of Serbia’s Kosovo office, and Mladjan Dinkic, the Finance Minister, met on Thursday and Friday to discuss Serbia's strategy ahead of the sixth round of Dacic-Thaci talks.
After the meeting, Marko Djuric, the Serbian President's advisor, reiterated that Serbia was ready to meet all the requirements to obtain a date for opening EU accession talks.
Djuric stated that Serbia would make “reasonable concession” in the dialogue with Pristina, but that Kosovo also must be ready to reach a compromise.
“We cannot reach a sustainable solution if one side is left completely dissatisfied,” Djuric said on March 1.
About a hundred Kosovo Serbs rallied at Jarinje to protest over a border deal that they say implies recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
A summary of the key events leading up to tensions in northern Kosovo.