The European Union has expressed regret over Serbia's rejection of an EU-brokered deal designed to end tensions with breakaway Kosovo. The move could threaten Serbia's EU membership aspirations.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton voiced disapproval on Monday of Serbia's decision to reject reconciliation proposals compiled during lengthy talks with Kosovo.
"I believe that all the elements for an agreement on northern Kosovo are on the table," Ashton said. "I regret the decision of the Serbian government to reject the proposals."
She called on Serbia to make a final effort to reach a bilateral agreement, "for the benefit of their people." Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
Hours before Ashton's comments, Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic was authorized to formally inform the European Union that ministers had unanimously rejected the deal at an emergency cabinet meeting. The EU had given Serbia until Tuesday to decide whether to relinquish its effective control of northern Kosovo.
"Serbia cannot accept the proposed principals that were verbally presented to Belgrade's negotiating team," Dacic told reporters, "because they do not guarantee the full security, survival and protection of human rights to Serbs in Kosovo."
However Belgrade "pledges an urgent resumption of dialogue with Pristina with EU mediation," he said.
EU membership bid at risk
Since negotiations got underway late last year, Aston has chaired eight rounds of talks between Serbian and Kosovo delegations, presenting both sides with a draft agreement last week.
It was met with animosity in Belgrade, with Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic announcing he was "very disappointed" by the EU offer. Vucic, who heads the Serbian Progressive Party, said that in talks on April 2 "eight points were read to us; six were acceptable for Belgrade, but two were not."
The two points in question concerned Serbian representation in the police force and law courts in northern Kosovo. Serbia was seeking broad autonomy for a small enclave of northern Kosovo with a majority ethnic-Serb population that do not accept the government in Pristina. In return, it had offered to recognize Pristina's authority over Kosovo.
As a whole, unlike in the north, the overwhelming majority of Kosovo's population is ethnic Albanian, with ethnic Serbs elsewhere in Kosovo largely happy to work with Pristina.
The Serb position on continued influence in the north was rejected by officials in Pristina who argued it would be tantamount to a division of Kosovo. The precise details of the EU's suggestion have not yet been made public.
Kosovo effectively split from Serbia in a 1998-99 war, when NATO forces intervened to stop Serb attacks on the region's Albanian population; Kosovo's government formally declared independence in 2008.
The rejection of the EU's proposal is likely to be a severe blow for Serbia's hopes to join the 27-nation bloc. In a condition set by Germany, Serbia must give up control of Kosovo's north in order for accession talks to begin.
Some 90 countries, including the US, Germany and 22 of 27 EU members, have recognized Kosovo as a sovereign country. EU members Spain, Greece and Cyprus, Serb ally Russia and Serbia itself are among the most notable countries not to recognize Kosovo's independence.
ccp/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)