Kosovo, Serbia to hold first direct talks

The Associated Press
Monday, March 7, 2011; 7:12 AM

BRUSSELS -- Serbia and Kosovo on Tuesday will hold their first direct talks since the former province declared independence from Serbia three years ago, the European Union said.

The talks will cover freedom of movement, regional cooperation and the rule of law, a senior EU official said

"The objective is to improve lives of people in the region and bring the Balkans more into line with EU standards," said the official, who declined to be identified due to standing rules.

Both sides say negotiations will focus on practical problems such as border controls and personal documents, while sidestepping political issues that have turned the dispute into one of Europe's frozen conflicts.

Kosovo rejects any talks that question its 2008 declaration of independence, while Serbia says it is after a compromise solution that allows it some sort of control over Serb-dominated areas in Kosovo.

The talks come after intense pressure from the EU, which both countries hope to join. EU diplomat Robert Cooper will mediate the 2-day meeting.

Serbia considers Kosovo the cradle of its statehood and religion. It remains vehemently opposed to the recognition of independence for Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians make up over 90 percent of the two million inhabitants.

Serbia, with Russia's backing, so far has succeeded in blocking Kosovo's membership in the United Nations because many members share its rejection of unilateral declarations of independence by separatist regions. Although the United States and most European nations have recognized Kosovo, it hasn't been able to open negotiations on accession to the EU because Spain, Greece, Slovakia, Cyprus and Romania have refused to allow it.

Washington and many in the West insist Kosovo's statehood is a special case because it is the result of a brutal Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign against Albanian separatists that led to an international administration in 1999, when NATO ejected Serb forces.

"It will take time and patience to achieve results," said Borko Stefanovic, a senior Serbian diplomat heading Belgrade's delegation. "No one should expect miracles ... the process will take as long as necessary,"

The talks are likely to be overshadowed by a probe into allegations that members of the now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army sold organs from their civilian captives during and after the 1999 war. Last month, Kosovo's parliament re-elected former rebel leader Hashim Thaci, who has been implicated in the organ-harvesting allegations, to a second term as prime minister.


Associated press Writer Jovana Gec contributed to this report from Belgrade.

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