Kosovo Serbs say they 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 European Union-brokered agreement, signed by Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci in Brussels on Friday, provides some autonomy for the roughly 40,000 Serbs in northern Kosovo who steadfastly refuse to recognise Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia.

Details of the text -- aimed at helping to resolve the last major dispute remaining of the bloody 1990s conflict that split the Balkans -- have not been made public by the EU.

But an unofficial version published by local media says Kosovo Serbs would be given positions of authority in the regional police force and in courts in Serb-majority municipalities, albeit within Kosovo's legal framework.

While the concessions -- the result of several rounds of EU-mediated talks -- are welcome, the historic deal has also infuriated many Kosovo Serbs who see it as a tacit acceptance by Belgrade of Kosovo's independence.

Dimitrijevic angrily called on Dacic and his aides "to come here and tell us if they are ashamed" for having struck the deal.

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

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

Many of the 80,000 other Kosovo Serbs scattered in enclaves throughout other parts of Kosovo also voiced disappointment over the deal, which they said made them feel further removed from Serbia.

"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.

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

But in Belgrade, some local media took a gloomier view. "Black day -- Kosovo is not ours any more! Serbia's Capitulation in Brussels!" the tabloid Nase Novine exclaimed indignantly.

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 has vowed never to recognise the breakaway territory's independence even though more than 90 countries, including the United States and most EU member-states, have done so.

But by moving towards normalising ties with Pristina, Belgrade is seeking to pave the way for Brussels to finally set a much-coveted date to begin EU accession talks.

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

Upon his return from Brussels on Saturday, Thaci urged Kosovo Serbs "not to fear the agreement" saying it "is good news for you and for us."

"This agreement is in the interest of Kosovo, Serbia, but above all, is in the interest of the Serbs in the north," he told reporters.

But Kosovo Serb leaders have already said they want Serbia to hold a referendum on whether to accept the EU-sponsored deal and have urged supporters to gather in Kosovska Mitrovica on Monday to show their discontent.

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