Talks between Serbia and Kosovo aimed at normalizing their relations have ended without an agreement. The result is likely to deal a tough blow to Serbia's European Union membership aspirations.
"The gap between the two sides is very narrow, but deep," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said early Wednesday in Brussels after mediating more than 12 hours of talks.
Ashton said the negotiations - the eighth between the prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo - had been "the last time we will meet formally."
"They will now both go back and consult with their colleagues in their capitals and will let me know in the next few days of their decision," Ashton said.
Both Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic (pictured) and his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Tachi, said there was still time to reach an agreement.
"This isn't the end; there will be more talks in Belgrade," Dacic told reporters. "We have some more time to reach a solution and gather our thoughts after these long talks."
According to Serbian state broadcaster RTS, Thaci said it would be "possible to continue talks next week if Serbia agrees with our principles."
"We hope they will use the time in the coming days for sincere reflection," Thaci said. "I remain hopeful an agreement can be reached."
A major sticking point in the negotiations was the status of Serbs who form the majority in the north of Kosovo, which as a whole is dominated by ethnic Albanians.
Serbian politicians have repeatedly said they would never recognize Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence in February 2008. Kosovo has been recognized by most EU countries as well as the United States.
Serbia has offered to recognize the Kosovo government's authority over the country's Serb-populated north, but Pristina has refused to grant it the autonomy demanded by Belgrade.
The European Commission is due to issue a report on the negotiations on April 16, which will form the basis of a June EU decision on whether to begin membership talks with Serbia.
dr/jm (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)