Serbia, Kosovo Fail to Find Accord at EU Talks

Serbia and Kosovo failed Wednesday to find common ground on how to defuse longstanding tensions at EU-sponsored talks, officials said.

"The gap between the two sides is very narrow but deep," said EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton, who chaired the eighth round of talks in Brussels aimed at normalising ties between Serbia and breakaway territory Kosovo.

"This is the last time we will meet formally," Ashton said in a statement, adding that "a number of proposals were put on the table."

Serb Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci will now return home for consultations "and will let me know in the next few days of their decision," she said after more than 12 hours of talks.

Ashton gave no details of the proposals discussed and did not explain what decision she expected from the two sides.

"I wish them a good journey home and every possible success in reaching a conclusion," she said in her brief statement.

Serbia's Dacic said separately that despite the lengthy meeting, "we do not have an agreement at this moment."

Holding out the prospect of further exchanges, however, Dacic told Serb media, "We still have a certain amount of time ahead to reach the solution."

According to the website of Serbian state broadcaster RTS, Kosovo Premier Thaci said it would be "possible to continue talks next week if Serbia agrees with our principles."

The main sticking point has been the future of the Serb minority living in Kosovo, especially the north, since Pristina declared independence in 2008.

Majority ethnic Albanian Kosovo has since then won recognition from around 100 countries, including the United States and most EU member states.

Belgrade and Serbs living in Kosovo continue to reject Pristina's independence, with the focus of the negotiations on the some 40,000 Serbs living in the north.

Both sides earlier agreed to establish an association of Serb municipalities but Pristina refuses to grant it the executive and judicial powers demanded by Belgrade.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic on Monday said recent statements from Pristina were "not encouraging".

"We must ensure the rights (for the association) are guaranteed not only by an agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, but also by the international community, primarily through the EU in its role as a mediator," Nikolic added.

Kosovo fears in turn that a large degree of autonomy for the north runs the risk the area would eventually break away.

The international community "wants to avoid at all costs the creation of a 'Serb Republic' in the north of Kosovo," said one source on Tuesday, referring to the Serb entity formed in Bosnia in 1992.

Progress at the talks had been seen as essential to keeping the momentum going, with Ashton saying Monday she expected them to be "conclusive."

The European Commission is due to issue a report on the negotiations on April 16, which will be forwarded to EU leaders for consideration at their end-June summit.

Serbia was hoping once a deal was agreed it would be given a date to start EU accession talks at the summit in June, while the European Commission has said Kosovo could get an agreement on an association accord at the same time.

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