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Serbia, Kosovo premiers hold 'useful' second round talks

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(BRUSSELS) - The prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo held "useful" talks Wednesday to defuse tension in the Western Balkans in what was only their second meeting since the breakaway province declared independence.

"Our open and frank discussions this evening evolved around different aspects of normalisation of relations between the two sides and both prime ministers committed to continue the talks," said European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

"We agreed to meet soon again," she said at the close of a two-hour EU-brokered working dinner bringing together Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci.

It was their second encounter since a ground-breaking October 19 tete-a-tete brokered by Ashton, who Wednesday briefly met both leaders separately ahead of the talks.

"This was a good and useful meeting. I believe that we made several steps forward," Dacic, who added that the talks would continue in early December, told B92 television.

Kosovo's Thaci told public broadcaster RTK that the talks took place "in a constructive spirit" with "a substantial debate".

The EU is offering to draw both sides closer to the 27-nation bloc on condition they cooperate on issues such as security and trade in order to reduce tensions and resolve daily headaches caused by Belgrade's refusal to recognise Pristina's unilateral declaration of independence in 2008.

Ashton said the two had agreed to continue the work for full implementation of a series of agreements struck by more junior negotiators in EU-brokered talks that kicked off in March 2011.

Those talks, which paused after Serbia's elections in May, included deals such as the mutual recognition of university degrees and return of property records.

Ashton indicated there was progress too on implementing a December accord to jointly manage border crossings in flashpoint northern Kosovo, where ethnic Serbs refuse to recognise the authority of Pristina.

She also said there was discussion on Kosovo claims that Serbia funds the Serbs in Kosovo as well as "how to enhance the protection of Serbian cultural and religious heritage in Kosovo".

The Serbian premier said Thaci had promised to form a police unit there that would be composed mostly of Serbs to protect religious sites in Kosovo.

A further sign of progress was an agreement to set up a joint technical working group to prepare a feasibility study for a Nis-Pristina motorway joining the two neighbours.

The EU-mediated dialogue was initiated in hopes of normalising ties by easing problems for ordinary people such as Kosovo's lack of a telephone country code.

This for example means mobile phone operators who set up in Kosovo after Serb forces were driven out in the 1998-1999 conflict issue numbers with the codes for Monaco or Slovenia.

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