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EU brokers first direct talks between Serbia and Kosovo

The EU has overseen talks between Serbia and Kosovo. After the province declared its independence in 2008, Serbia had announced that it would never recognize Kosovo's independence.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said she met separately with the countries' prime ministers, Serbia's Ivica Dacic and Kosovo's Hashim Thaci, and then chaired the joint meeting.

"We agreed to continue the dialogue for the normalization of relations between the two sides, and both committed to working together," Ashton said. "We will meet again soon."

Serbia is a candidate for EU membership. Kosovo aspires to an association deal with the bloc - an aim complicated by five member states not recognizing it as an independent country.

'In the interest of both sides'

Despite refusing to accept the loss of its former province, Serbia has agreed to talks to resolve cross-border issues such as trade, traffic, telecommunications, energy and police cooperation. The countries have agreed on everything from free cross-border movement and Kosovo's participation in regional forums to the sharing of birth, death and marriage certificates. Not all agreements have been implemented, however.

Dacic had said before the trip to Brussels that Serbia is ready to negotiate, but will not recognize Kosovo's independence. In Pristina, however, the parliament passed a resolution Wednesday to normalize ties with Serbia.

"I firmly believe that the dialogue is in the interest of both sides," Ashton said. "Its objective is to improve the lives of people and help solve problems and, in so doing, bring Serbia and Kosovo closer to the EU."

Serbia and Kosovo, however, still seem to have a lot of ground between them on the issue of the latter's sovereignty. The two countries went through seven rounds of EU-brokered talks from March 2011 until they were put on hold this February, ahead of Serbia's May elections.

Kosovo is recognized by some 90 countries, including 22 of the 27 EU members and the United States.

mkg/rc (AP, dpa, AFP)