EU Makes Last-Ditch Bid for Serbia-Kosovo Deal

Created: 2013-04-17 10:43 EST

Category: World > Europe

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci arrived in Brussels on Wednesday for a new round of EU-sponsored talks on ending the ethnic partition of its former Kosovo province.

Thaci said before the meeting that a deal would ensure good relations between the two countries that split up in 1999, when NATO waged an 11-week air war to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serbian forces trying to crush a guerrilla insurgency.

With speculation rife that a deal might be near, the European Commission delayed a report on Serbia's readiness to start accession talks that was due on Tuesday, before the EU's 27 members consider its findings on April 22.

Serbia does not recognise Kosovo's 2008 secession, and last week rejected the principles of an agreement on the status of a small Serb pocket of the majority-Albanian country after six months of talks led by Ashton.

Five years since Kosovo seceded, Serbia has signalled it is ready to come to terms with the loss of its southern province in exchange for the economic boost of closer ties with the EU. Serbs consider Kosovo the cradle of their Orthodox Christian faith, but 90 percent of its 1.7 million people are Albanians.

Accession talks would help unlock Serbia's potential as the largest market in the former Yugoslavia, providing a stimulus for reform and a signal of stability for much-needed foreign investors. The country will watch neighbouring Croatia, its wartime foe, become the EU's 28th member on July 1.