Serbia, Kosovo agree way forward on plan to normalize ties

Reuters News
Posted: May 22, 2013 3:10 PM
Serbia, Kosovo agree way forward on plan to normalize ties

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Serbia and Kosovo agreed in principle on Wednesday on a plan to implement an historic accord to settle their relations, a step that strengthens Serbia's chances of getting the go-ahead next month to start talks on joining the European Union.

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Thaci, reached the draft agreement in two days of talks in Brussels, chaired by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

The two leaders will return to their capitals to consult other political leaders however before giving their final verdict on the plan, which sets out concrete steps for putting into practice a groundbreaking agreement to normalize relations which was agreed in April.

Ashton said in a statement that the two prime ministers had agreed on "a fixed text which they are now consulting upon. They will be in touch with me by the end of the week."

No details of the draft agreement were made public.

Serbia agreed on April 19 to cede its last remaining foothold in its former province of Kosovo in return for the prospect of talks on eventually joining the EU.

The deal, brokered by the EU, capped six months of delicate negotiations and marked a milestone for the region's recovery from the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

The agreement outlined an end to the ethnic partition of Kosovo between its Albanian majority and a small, Belgrade-backed pocket of some 50,000 Serbs in the north.

The north Kosovo Serbs have threatened to resist integration with the rest of Kosovo, in a region bristling with weapons.

Following the accord, the EU's executive Commission encouraged EU governments to start membership talks with Serbia, but the bloc wants to see a plan for implementing the agreement and progress on the ground before taking a final decision in late June.

If implemented, the deal could unlock Serbia's potential as the largest market in the former Yugoslavia, taking the country from international pariah status under late strongman Slobodan Milosevic to the threshold of mainstream Europe.

(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Jon Hemming)