Kosovo government cars torched as PM talks with Serbia

PRISTINA Fri Jan 18, 2013 6:05am EST

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PRISTINA (Reuters) - Three Kosovo government vehicles were torched overnight, police said on Friday, in an attack that appeared to be in protest against European Union-mediated talks between Serbia and its former southern province.

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and his Serbian counterpart, Ivica Dacic, held talks late into the night in Brussels, as part of an EU push to normalize relations between the Balkan neighbors.

The talks are highly unpopular in Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008 but is not recognized by Serbia.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority says it has nothing to discuss with former master Belgrade, which lost control over the territory in 1999 after NATO air strikes to halt a brutal Serbian counter-insurgency war.

Two Kosovo government cars were torched the last time Thaci and Dacic met, on December 4. Three were burned overnight on Friday in the capital Pristina, "all within 20 minutes of each other", police spokesman Agron Borovci said.

Kosovo Albanians fear that Thaci's government will make concessions on a small, Serb-populated pocket of northern Kosovo that Serbia retained de facto control of even after the war.

The EU says the north must reintegrate with the rest of Kosovo and wants progress before it moves ahead with Serbia's bid to join the bloc.

Serbia is seeking autonomy for the region but has offered to recognize the authority of Thaci's government over the entire territory.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is chairing the talks, said on Friday that they had reached a "provisional understanding" on the collection of customs duties, levies and value-added tax at the disputed border.

The talks will resume in February. (Reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels; Editing by Matt Robinson and David Goodman)

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