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Serbian, Kosovo Prime Ministers End Talks


European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton met on February 19 with Kosovo's Hashim Thaci (left) and Serbia's Ivica Dacic (right).
BRUSSELS -- The prime ministers of Kosovo and Serbia have ended two days of European Union-mediated talks in Brussels with no substantive agreement.

Kosovo's Hashim Thaci and Serbia's Ivica Dacic have reportedly been debating potential arrangements for governing some 40,000 ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo who refuse to recognize the authority of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership.

EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, who hosted the meeting, issued a brief statement at the end of talks on February 20 saying that "significant progress" was made.

Ashton's spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, said after the talks the two sides were open to dialogue and finding practical solutions.

Kocijancic said that Ashton was "satisfied that both prime ministers showed the willingness and engagement to find these solutions. They were here for two days, they had in-depth discussions. They discussed very practical, very concrete ideas of how issues at hand could be resolved and this is important progress in the process of the dialogue."

Thaci said that both he and Dacic agreed in principle to tackle technical issues in future rounds of negotiations, the first of which is due to be held in Brussels on March 4.

"I can say the meeting was held in a constructive way," Thaci said. "There was a commitment to find an acceptable solution to normalize the situation in the north of Kosovo in accordance with Kosovo's constitution and its laws; the commitment to dissolve the parallel security structures as soon as possible; commitment for the rule of law, for a justice system within Kosovo legislation."

Dacic, however, pointed to the disagreements in the way the two sides viewed the ethnic Serbs' structures in northern Kosovo.

"Unfortunately, someone within the international community or in Kosovo called these institutions in northern Kosovo parallel ones. It's quite obvious that they're the only ones in that region. On the other hand, it is pretty clear that those institutions cannot be dismantled without an agreement on what will replace them," Dacic said.

"However, if we strike a deal on establishing an association of Serbian municipalities, where Serbs are in the majority -- our position is that the association should be formed not only in the north, but also in the south of Kosovo -- if that association will have significant say in Kosovo's political life with the possibility to exercise self-governance, then it would lead to the resolution of all other practical problems."

Belgrade continues to reject Kosovo's independence from Serbia, declared five years ago.

But Serbia is taking part in the talks in hopes of improving its chances for starting EU membership negotiations.

With reporting by dpa and Reuters
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