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Serbia eyes 'historic reconciliation' with Kosovo

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Serbia eyes 'historic reconciliation' with Kosovo


(BELGRADE) - Serbia and Kosovo begin EU-brokered talks Tuesday, the first high level direct meetings since Pristina broke away in 2008, with Belgrade seeing an opportunity for an "historic reconciliation."

However Serbia has made its clear that the talks will only tackle practical problems like trade agreements, customs issues and property records and stressed it would never recognize Pristina's declaration of independence.

"This is an opportunity for an historic reconciliation between Serbs and (Kosovo) Albanians and neither Belgrade nor Pristina should pass it up," Goran Bogdanovic, Serbia's minister for Kosovo, said last week.

The Serbian authorities are keen to show their willingness to enter talks in the hope that it will speed up their path to European Union membership but remain firm that recognition of Kosovo's independence is a bridge too far.

"For us Kosovo is Serbia," chief negotiator Borko Stefanovic told AFP, echoing a favourite nationalist slogan often seen in graffiti here.

So far Kosovo is recognised by 75 states including the United States and a majority of European Union countries.

Even with recognition off the table, there is plenty to talk about at the session in Brussels.

The status quo leads to strange situations in Kosovo where for example the mobile phones in the Albanian majority part operate with Monaco and Slovenian country codes while Pristina is still a local call from Belgrade on a landline.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in press interviews Monday that she hoped the talks would help bring both Pristina and Belgrade closer to the EU.

"I want the dialogue to help in removing obstacles to free movement of property and goods," she told Kosovo'a Koha Ditore daily.

Kosovo's chief negotiator, deputy prime minister Edita Tahiri, said she hoped the talks would open new perspectives.

"It is time not to forget history but to rise above it and look ahead," she told AFP in an interview last week.

Newly re-elected Kosovo prime minister Hashim Thaci is keen on moving ahead with the talks as a way to rehabilitate his image, tarnished by a Council of Europe report linking him and other former Kosovo Liberation Army guerrilla leaders to illegal organ trafficking and organised crime.

Thaci denies the claims.

"Thaci's international credibility was harmed and he aims at Brussels accepting him as a partner," political analyst Ardian Arifaj of the Foreign Policy Club think tank in Pristina said.

In Pristina there is not much enthusiasm for the talks.

In parliament, where Thaci's ruling coalition has only a slight majority of 61 out of 120 seats, the opposition has called for a special session on the talks Monday. They want a parliamentary resolution which would determine the topics of the dialogue with Belgrade.

If they manage to sway one or two ruling coalition lawmakers such a resolution could be voted through, severely limiting Pristina's flexibility in the talks.

Tahiri said Kosovo has already set out its "red lines" that are not be crossed and added that Washington would also mediate in the talks alongside Brussels.

"It is clearly a dialogue in the framework of technical issues because the status issue (independence) is a closed chapter," she insisted.

Serbia believes the talks will eventually have to deal with the independence as it is at the heart of the problems.

"We will go into all questions and try to resolve them regardless of what they are called," Stefanovic told the Blic daily Monday.

Kosovo declared independence after nearly a decade under UN administration following the ouster of Serbian troops loyal to then president Slobodan Milosevic in the wake of the 1998-99 war.

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