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EU cites 'significant progress' in Serbia, Kosovo talks

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The EU said Wednesday that significant progress has been made in talks with Serbia and Kosovo aimed at defusing tensions in one of Europe's last trouble-spots, having demanded concrete results from the two parties.

EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton said a fifth series of talks she chaired with Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci had gone well, with all sides pleased at the outcome and another meeting set for March 4.

The two premiers "met on Tuesday and Wednesday in the framework of the EU-facilitated dialogue for the normalisation of relations and had in-depth discussions," Ashton said in a statement.

"The prime ministers are pleased with the significant progress they have made, as am I," she added, without elaborating further.

Dacic and Thaci met separately and then jointly with Ashton in talks the European Union has brokered since 2011 in a bid to ease simmering tensions after Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia in 2008.

Belgrade has staunchly refused to recognise Pristina's independence but most of the EU's 27 member states have done so, along with the United States.

EU president Herman Van Rompuy said earlier that "concrete results in the dialogue are essential for progress on the EU path for both Kosovo and Serbia."

The 27-nation EU hopes that offering the possibility of EU membership for Serbia and closer ties with Kosovo will help speed normalisation between the two neighbours.

Serbia hopes to be given a date to start EU accession talks at a summit in June while European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has said Kosovo could get an agreement on an association accord at the same.

Apart from international recognition, a key problem in the Serbia-Kosovo stand-off is the fate of 40,000 ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo who refuse to recognise the Pristina authorities, as well as 80,000 others in enclaves scattered throughout Kosovo.

On Sunday, Kosovo celebrated the fifth anniversary of independence.

"The republic of Kosovo is an irrefutable reality and its independence is irreversible," President Atifete Jahjaga said, while also offering an olive branch to the Serb community.

"Kosovo's independence is your independence... This is your homeland also that you will be proud off," Jahjaga said.

"Let's extend a hand of cooperation... for the sake of a peaceful future."

Earlier this month, Jahjaga met Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic in Brussels for the first time, again under EU auspices, with Ashton describing those talks as "open and constructive."

Belgrade still considers the Kosovo to be its southern province and despite the apparent progress made at the EU-sponsored talks, there are concerns that the slightest incident could easily set them back.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130220/eu-cites-significant-progress-serbia-kosovo-talks-0