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Serbia gets parliament backing for Kosovo talks

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(BELGRADE) - Serbia's parliament early Sunday adopted a document calling for "autonomy" for its Serb minority in Kosovo as a part of EU-backed talks with Pristina.

Prime Minister Ivica Dacic called on deputies to accept "reality" in the breakaway territory.

"Serbia's sovereignty (in Kosovo) is almost non-existent," Dacic told deputies during more than 12-hour long debate.

"We must take into consideration the reality in Kosovo" whose ethnic Albanian majority authorities unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, Dacic said.

In the presence of Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, Dacic with his cabinet, 175 deputies voted for the measure. Only 19 of the deputies present in the 250-seat parliament voted against.

The vote came just days after Dacic's government adopted a draft resolution that it hopes will serve as a basis for EU-backed talks with Pristina, due to resume on January 17 in Brussels.

The document calls for larger autonomy within Kosovo for the Serb minority, among them, local judicial, police, education, financial and other powers separate from Pristina's authority. It maintains Belgrade's refusal to officially recognise Kosovo's independence, Dacic said.

It would cover four municipalities in tense northern Kosovo -- where some 40,000 minority Serbs live -- as well as enclaves scattered throughout the territory, home to a remaining 80,000 Serbs.

Kosovo in 2008 declared itself an independent state, a move so far recognised by much of the international community.

But it was rejected by Serbia and the Kosovo Serb minority: many consider the former province as the cradle of their nation and of the Orthodox faith.

Serbia gained candidate status last March for membership of the European Union. But Brussels has said that an improvement in relations between Belgrade and Pristina is a key requirement if it is to begin entry talks with EU.

Dacic rejected opposition charges that Serbia was giving up Kosovo by making more and more concessions to Pristina. He insisted that "myths and fairytales should not serve as a basis" for talks.

"If Serbia keeps on holding its head in the sand, we will have nothing more to negotiate about," he argued.

Belgrade has de facto lost its authority in Kosovo -- except in the northern part where local Serbs reject Pristina's rule -- since a 1999 NATO bombing campaign forced its troops out of the territory.

The Alliance air war was launched to end the repression of then regime of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic on the independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.


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