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Kosovo PM Says Deal With Serbia Near, But No Concessions

Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci (left), EU High Representative Catherine Ashton (second from right), and Kosovar President Atifete Jahjaga (right) at their meeting in Pristina on March 14.
Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci has expressed hope that a deal with Serbia regarding his country's status is within reach.

Thaci made the statement on March 14 after meeting in Pristina with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

"Progress is happening step by step, we have to deal with accumulated problems [with Serbia] that are a century old,” he said. “The problems in the north go back as far as 13-14 years ago but for the first time [in the north] law and order are starting to function. This is not directed against anyone but it is rather in service of everyone. Therefore, I expect things to move forward, towards achieving a political agreement aimed at normalizing relations between our two countries."

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence, but is under pressure from the European Union to improve ties and overcome a de facto ethnic partition between Kosovo's Albanian majority and the ethnic Serbian pocket in the north.

However, Thaci denied that concessions will be made to the Serbian minority living in northern Kosovo.

Thaci said ethnic Serbs will hold separate elections in September but the elected body will not have executive powers.

Ashton held talks with Thaci, President Atifete Jahjaga, and opposition leaders before leaving for Belgrade.

She said in a statement that the talks were about reaching consensus "on the open issues, notably on northern Kosovo, as soon as possible."

Improved relations with Kosovo are key conditions for Serbia to start talks with the European Union on a date for the beginning of accession talks.

Brussels has also made better relations with Belgrade a key condition for Kosovo to obtain visa-free access to the European Union.

From Pristina, Ashton traveled to Belgrade, where she is to meet with Serbia's leadership.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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