By Aleksandar Vasovic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia should seek a partition agreement with neighboring Kosovo in order to end a dispute that is hampering Belgrade's accession to the European Union, the Serbian defense minister said on Tuesday.
Belgrade refuses to recognize the independence of Kosovo, its former province and home to a minority of 120,000 ethnic Serbs, despite pressure from Brussels for the two to improve relations as a precondition for EU membership.
Speaking at a round table on Kosovo, Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin did not specify which part of the country he believes should be partitioned, but similar calls made in the past have pointed to northern Kosovo.
Separated from the rest of the country by the river Ibar, northern Kosovo is home to 50,000 ethnic Serbs who oppose Pristina and still look to Belgrade as their government. More than 90 percent of Kosovo's 1.8 million population is of Albanian descent.
"Permanent and firm delimitation between Serbs and Albanians must be established in Kosovo," Vulin told the round table of experts convened as part of a national dialogue on Kosovo.
Later on Tuesday the European Commission is due to announce a Western Balkans strategy that will set 2025 as target date for Serbia and its small former federal partner Montenegro to join the EU.
Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has previously suggested partition as a possible solution to the territorial dispute, but it is not government policy.
Under a 2013 EU-brokered deal Belgrade, Pristina agreed to give Serb enclaves in Kosovo more autonomy and grant protected status to Orthodox monasteries. Most Kosovo Albanians oppose these measures, fearing Serbia's influence.
Belgrade says Pristina has failed to abide by the agreement. Kosovo officials deny this.
Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after NATO bombing campaign ousted Serbian forces and ended the crackdown on ethnic Albanians during a two-year war.
It has been recognized by 115 countries, including 23 out of 28 EU members, but its UN membership is being blocked by Serbia's allies Russia and China.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic and Fatos Bytyci in Pristina; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)