Kosovo Serbs feel betrayed by historic deal

Some are furious, others resigned, but most Serbs in northern Kosovo feel betrayed by a historic deal reached by Belgrade and Pristina to normalise ties in a step to heal the festering enmity in the Balkans' last trouble-spot.

"Belgrade betrayed and cheated us," Marko Dimitrijevic, a 32-year-old pharmacist, said bitterly while sipping a coffee in a cafe in the northern Kosovan city of Kosovska Mitrovica.

The agreement, struck on Friday, provides autonomy for the some 40,000 Serbs in northern Kosovo who steadfastly refuse to recognise Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia.

The deal -- whose details have not been made public by the EU -- sought to help solve the last major dispute remaining of the bloody 1990s conflict that split the Balkans.

But it has sent ripples through this ethnically divided town, animating conversation.

Dimitrijevic angrily called on Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and his aides "to come here and tell us if they are ashamed" for having reached the accord.

His words echoed the fury of Kosovo Serbs in the wake of Dacic and his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Thaci, signing the agreement in Brussels following rounds of talks hosted by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Quite a few of the 80,000 other Kosovo Serbs scattered in enclaves through the rest of Kosovo were also resigned to coming under Pristina's authority.

"Belgrade has abandoned the north of Kosovo, just as it already abandoned us when the (ethnic) Albanians declared their independence," said Nikola Stosovic, a retiree in the enclave of Gracanica near Pristina.

"We have to resign ourselves to the idea that Serbia is far away," said Darinka Stojkovic, a nearby newspaper vendor.

Serbia lost control over its then southern province in 1999 when NATO halted a crackdown by late strongman Slobodan Milosevic on the pro-independence ethnic Albanian majority and ousted his armed forces out of the territory.

Today, the territory's population of 1.8 million people is around 90 percent ethnic Albanian.

Belgrade had long insisted that Kosovo remains part of Serbia, vowing never to recognise its independence.

However, more than 90 countries, including the United States and most EU member-states, have done so.

Most Serbs, both in Belgrade and Kosovo, now believe that the Serbian government gave up its anti-independence vow.

By reaching the accord "they recognised Kosovo as an independent state and are pushing us under Albanian authority," Gordana Petkovic, a 57-year old clerk told AFP in Kosovska Mitrovica.

"We will not accept it. I will never take Kosovo's documents," she vowed angrily.

Serbia's goal, though, in normalising ties is to overcome the biggest obstacle to one day joining the European Union. Belgrade is vying for a desperately hoped-for date to begin EU accession talks.

Petkovic said that, even though she was in favour of a EU membership "so at least my kids could live normally, I do not support that you sell a part of your state for a date."

Media in Pristina, which is predominantly ethnic Albanian, hailed the normalisation deal as "new confirmation that Kosovo is independent, sovereign and free," as the daily Express wrote.

But in Belgrade, headlines reflected division within Serbian society over the sensitive issue,

"Black day - Kosovo is not ours any more! Serbia's Capitulation in Brussels!" the tabloid Nase Novine exclaimed indignantly.

The influential pro-government Politika coldly noted only that "Belgrade and Pristina reached an accord."

Kosovo Serb leaders want Serbia to hold a referendum on whether to accept the EU-sponsored deal.

They called on fellow Kosovo Serbs to gather in Kosovska Mitrovica on Monday to show their discontent and to figure out further steps.

"This is the worst surrender and betrayal which has ever happened in Serbia," a northern Kosovo Serb leader Marko Jaksic said.

In Belgrade, political analyst Dragan Bujosevic said Serbia had "yet to calculate what it has gained and what it lost" with the deal.

"The hardest part will be to prove to Kosovo Serbs in the north that the deal is in their own interest.

"But even that is feasible, as the most difficult has already been done: ... war is replaced with peace, the past with the future," Bujosevic said.

For Slobodan Krstic, a 48-year-old clerk in Kosovska Mitrovica, the future of Kosovo Serbs was only acceptable if they were not a part of ethnic Albanian-led independent state.

"We will always be part of Serbia and nobody's signature can change that. But those (leaders) from Belgrade will be written in history books as traitors," he said.