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Serbia pessimistic over agreement with Kosovo

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(BELGRADE) - Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic on Monday cast doubt on whether a final agreement with breakaway Kosovo is attainable, a day ahead of highly anticipated EU-sponsored talks with the Pristina leadership in Brussels.

"Intractable statements from Pristina put us before a fait accompli and are not encouraging," Nikolic told reporters ahead of Tuesday's meeting.

Belgrade officials claim that the EU, which has sponsored the dialogue between the former foes aimed at normalising relations, has sided with Kosovo, expecting concessions only from Serbia.

"Telling us to accept everything written in the Kosovo constitution and laws (is) maybe a wish to see us not come (to Brussels) as we cannot accept" such requests, Nikolic said.

Majority ethnic Albanian Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

The move has since been recognised by around 100 countries, including the United States and most EU member states, but is fiercely rejected by Belgrade and the Serb minority living in Kosovo.

The fate of the 40,000-strong Serb minority in northern Kosovo which refuses to recognise Pristina's authority is key to a deal.

Both sides have agreed to establish an association of Serb municipalities, but Pristina refuses to grant it the executive and judicial power demanded by Belgrade.

"We must ensure the rights (for the association) are guaranteed not only by an agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, but also by the international community, primarily through the EU in its role as a mediator," Nikolic said.

Belgrade's delegation at the talks, launched in 2011, will not demand Serbia's laws to be applied in Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo, but it "will not accept a big nothing", Nikolic said.

In Pristina, Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci told reporters he was expecting an agreement on Tuesday.

But he firmly ruled out executive and legislative branches for the Serb association.

Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign affairs chief, meanwhile said she was hopeful that talks would bring agreement.

"I think an agreement should be possible, even if it won't be easy," she said in a statement.

Ashton added she thought the two sides would be meeting "with the aim of finding a solution that best fits the interests of the people concerned and contributes to a better future".

"We must not miss this opportunity," she warned.

In practice, Belgrade has lost its authority in Kosovo -- except in the northern part -- since a 1999 NATO bombing campaign forced its troops out of the territory.

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

Brussels has set concrete progress in the talks as a key condition to both sides to move on towards EU membership.

Nikolic warned that failure to reach an agreement with Pristina would bring "economic hardship" to Serbia and delay the start of accession talks with the European Union.

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