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Serbia, Kosovo blame each other for talks failure

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Serbia and Kosovo on Wednesday traded blame for the failure at EU-sponsored talks to reach an accord on how to ease long-standing tensions, but both say they are ready to do more to compromise.

Little has been made public on the details of the 12-hour talks in Brussels overnight that ended without an agreement.

But a Serbian government source who did not want to be named said Wednesday that EU officials had "proposed to both sides to sign a kind of a general accord aimed to show progress made so far and to leave details for further talks".

The source pinned the blame for the failure squarely on Kosovo's prime minister Hashim Thaci.

But in Pristina, Kosovo's deputy prime minister Behgjet Pacolli said Serbia was the one at fault.

"Unfortunately, Serbia once again proved that it is unprepared for peace," Pacolli told reporters.

And Thaci said that the "Serbian side has requested additional time for consultations".

"We can not declare the process ended or failed. These are not easy decisions for any country or a leader, but we must not remain hostage to the past," Thaci added.

The big sticking point through the eight rounds of talks has been the future of the Serb minority living in Kosovo, especially in the north, since it declared independence in 2008.

While Serbia has offered to recognise Pristina's authority over the north, it wants autonomy for some 40,000 Serbs living there who continue to reject Pristina's declaration of independence.

Following the marathon discussions, Serbia's President Tomislav Nikolic met Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, and his deputy Aleksandar Vucic to weigh what ground to give in order to reach a consensus.

Vucic said that Serbia "is in a very difficult position" and should give its "response" by Tuesday.

"We will have to chose between two extremly difficult options... (Serbia) is now between accepting a very bad plan for the Serbs in the north and rejecting to sign any agreement with the (Kosovo) Albanian side and the EU," Vucic told Serbian state television RTS.

According to the Serbian government source, there was hope that a compromise could still be reached.

"Nothing is over yet," the source said. "We still have five or six days to reach an accord" before the issue of a European Commission report on April 16 on the progress of the talks.

That report, which will be forwarded to EU leaders to evaluate at a summit in late June, is crucial in paving the way for Serbia to join the EU, as talks on membership are contingent on normalising ties with its former province.

A glowing report would hand Serbia a date to start EU accession talks at the June summit and could get Kosovo an agreement on an association accord at the same time.

"This is still a phase of arm wrestling," the source said, adding that "several days of shuttle diplomacy could be expected" in order to overcome the gap between Belgrade and Pristina, described by EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton as "very narrow but deep".

Ashton, who hosted the Brussels talks, did not mention the proposals discussed or what decision she expected from the two sides, only saying that they would inform her "in the next few days of their decision".

In Pristina, there is a push to get Washington -- Kosovo's main ally and one of around 100 countries to have recognised majority ethnic Albanian Kosovo -- involved in the dialogue in order to hasten an agreement.

"There has not been any process in the Balkans that has functioned without a direct and strong intervention of the United States," Valon Murtezaj, professor of political sciences at the University of Pristina, said.

He referred notably to the leading US role in reaching the Dayton peace agreement that ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia.

"So, that is why they have now to take over a stronger role" in the Kosovo-Serbia negotiations, Murtezaj said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130403/serbia-kosovo-blame-each-other-talks-failure-0