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news 29 Mar 13

Serbian Officials to Agree Stance on Kosovo

As EU officials voice optimism that Kosovo and Serbia will shortly reach a deal on the Serb-run north of Kosovo, Serbian top officials met ahead of a 'historic' round of talks.

Beta, B92, Anadolu, BIRN Belgrade

Serbian officials are meeting at noon on Friday to agree their stance on Kosovo ahead of the key next round of EU-led Belgrade-Pristina talks on April 2.

First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic is expected to decide whether to participate in the new round of talks in Brussels.

"The Deputy Prime Minister will meet with Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and President Tomislav Nikolic on March 28, after which he will decide whether to go to Brussels," Beta news agency reported.

So far, Dacic and his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Thaci, have been leading the talks.

Media reports said Vucic had been urged to attend by both EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton, and by the US.

Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Ashton, said Ashton had not sent an official invitation to Vucic but would be pleased if he came to the talks.

"The dialogue is going ahead with the participation of the premiers of Serbia and Kosovo and it is up to them to decide the composition of their delegations," Kocijancic explained.

Senior Serbian officials already met on Monday and concluded that the Serbian delegation would attend the next round with a brief to precisely define the powers for a proposed Association of Serbian Municipalities in Kosovo.

According to the plan, 10 Serbian municipalities - four in Serb-run northern Kosovo and six from the rest of Kosovo - will transfer their responsibilities to the Association, Balkan Insight has previously learned.

The plan is in line with EU and Kosovo demands that Serbia dismantle its so-called "parallel" structures in the north, and with Serbian demands for broad autonomy to be offered to all Serb-populated areas in Kosovo.

Some EU officials have expressed hope that the deal will be closed shortly.

Jelko Kacin, European Parliament Rapporteur for Serbia, said that he was looking forward to a historic agreement between Belgrade and Pristina.

It would be a "a great breakthrough for the entire region,” Kacin told Spanish Anadolu news agency on Friday.

The eighth round of EU-mediated talks is seen as crucial for Serbia, as the outcome will affect an EU decision on whether to offer Serbia a start date for membership talks in June or not.

The EU-mediated technical dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia was launched in March 2011, three years after Kosovo declared independence.

The aim is to normalize relations between the two countries, both of which aspire to EU membership, in the context of Serbia's continued refusal to recognise Kosovo's independence.

"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.

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