Serbia, Kosovo fail to agree on plan to tackle ethnic partition

BRUSSELS Wed Apr 17, 2013 7:17pm EDT

A man walks over a bridge in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica April 17, 2013. REUTERS/Hazir Reka

A man walks over a bridge in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica April 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Hazir Reka

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Serbia and Kosovo failed to agree on a plan to tackle the ethnic partition of Serbia's former province on Thursday, casting doubt on Belgrade's prospects of getting the go-ahead to start talks on joining the European Union in June.

After around 14 hours of talks in Brussels between the Serbian and Kosovo prime ministers, billed as a make-or-break session, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said differences remained between the two sides.

She said however that their differences were "narrow and very shallow" and held out hope there could yet be an agreement before an EU ministerial meeting on Monday at which she is expected to make a recommendation on whether Serbia is ready to start talks on joining the EU.

Agreement between Serbia and Kosovo is seen as crucial to Belgrade's chances of securing approval from EU leaders at a June summit to open talks on joining the 27-nation bloc.

Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 1998-99, when NATO waged an 11-week air war to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serbian forces trying to crush a guerrilla insurgency. Kosovo declared independence in 2008 but Serbia does not recognize its secession.

Serbia retained de facto control over a small, Serb-populated pocket of north Kosovo, in an ethnic partition that frequently flares into violence and that the EU says must end.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic, writing by Adrian Croft; Editing by Eric Beech)

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