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news 26 Mar 13

Serbia Cannot Choose EU Over Kosovo, President Says

Tomislav Nikolic says Serbia cannot be asked to choose between its hopes of EU membership and its claim to the former province of Kosovo.

Tanjug, B92, BIRN Belgrade

"It is not possible to choose between Europe and Kosovo," Nikolic told Serbian broadcaster B92 on Monday, referring to frequent foreign demands that Belgrade make one or other issue the priority.

Kosovo declared independence in February 2008 but Serbia strongly opposes the move. In March 2011, an EU-mediated technical dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia was launched aimed to normalize relations between the two countries, both of which aspire to EU membership.

"Normalisation" of relations with Kosovo is the EU's main precondition for Serbia as it continues to pursue EU membership. Serbia obtained EU candidate country status in March 2012 and is hoping to get a start date for membership talks in June.

But, according to Nikolic, Serbia has red lines that it will not cross, including recognizing Kosovo as an independent state. The second is allowing any armed force, other than its own, to act on the territory of the Serbian community.

In the meantime, Nikolic added, the Serbian community "should have the competencies to which local self-governments are legally entitled, so that the administration in Pristina cannot obstruct the exercise of these powers".

He was referring in this instance to the planned Association of Serbian Municipalities, which Serbia and Kosovo are due to agree on in Brussels on April 2.

Nikolic said that concrete plans concerning the exact powers of the Association will be announced by Thursday.

The President also added that the government had been exposed to great pressures to reach a deal on Kosovo, not mentioning them but presumably from abroad.

"All key officials in Serbia, particularly Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic were exposed to pressures by those wanting agreements on Kosovo signed as soon as possible," Nikolic said.

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