Serbia, Kosovo strike border management deal
(BRUSSELS) - Serbia and Kosovo struck a key deal to jointly manage their disputed border crossings on Friday, a vital step in reducing tension on the north Kosovo border, the European Union said.
As the EU announced the agreement, seen as crucial to Serbia's bid to win entry to the EU, there was some confusion in Belgrade, where the country's negotiator Borko Stefanovic was quoted as saying details remained to be worked out.
"Although we have significantly got our positions close, it remains to put a dot on the 'I'," Stefanovic told Tanjug news agency.
In Brussels, the EU's foreign affairs office issued a statement saying: "The parties reached an agreement on the EU developed concept of integrated management for crossing points.
"This means that the parties will gradually set up the joint, integrated, single and secure posts at all their common crossing points."
The system, to be gradually implemented "as soon as possible", is to be overseen by members of the European rule of law mission EULEX, which combines officials and police.
The EU announcement of a deal followed three days of long talks into the late hours as Serbia came under strong pressure from EU nations and NATO to take a proactive role in stemming violence on the border.
A new surge of unrest at border crossings in recent days left scores injured, including NATO peacekeepers, while threatening to scuttle the fledgling Serbia-Kosovo talks as well as Serbia's dreams of EU membership.
Some 50 soldiers from the NATO-led mission, including Austrians and Germans, were hurt when trying to dismantle barricades put up by members of northern Kosovo's majority ethnic Serbs who refuse to recognise border guards and customs officials sent by the ethnic Albanian government in Pristina.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008 but Belgrade still considers the territory to be a Serbian province.
Earlier Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Serbia could not become a candidate for EU membership due to its failure to progress in normalising ties with Kosovo.
The EU-brokered Serbia-Kosovo talks, which began in March, were aimed at resolving practical day-to-day problems for residents of Kosovo caused by Serbia's refusal to recognise Kosovo's independence.
A week ago in Brussels, both sides agreed to recognise each other's university diplomas.
The outcome of this eighth round in the first tete-a-tete between the two in three years will likely determine whether EU leaders at a summit next week give their blessing to Serbia being declared a candidate for EU membership.
Once regarded as a shoo-in for EU candidacy after the arrest of longtime wanted war criminals Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic earlier this year, the border flare-up has dimmed Belgrade's chances somewhat.
While Germany and Austria appear hesitant, both French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and his Spanish counterpart Trinidad Jimenez said this week they favoured granting Serbia candidate status.
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