Serbia, Kosovo PMs to hold fresh EU talks before summit

The premiers of Serbia and Kosovo will hold fresh talks in Brussels on Thursday as the pair speed up efforts to normalise ties in a bid to win European Union support at a key summit next week.

Catherine Ashton, who heads EU foreign policy, said in a statement Monday she would meet the Serbia and Kosovo prime ministers, Ivica Dacic and Hashim Thaci, to "discuss progress in the implementation" of an historic April deal to defuse tension in the last Balkans' trouble-spot.

She also welcomed as "an important step" the exchange earlier Monday of liaison officers in the two capitals -- part of the EU-brokered deal that will enable them both take a step closer to eventual EU membership.

The EU's 27 leaders -- to be joined on July 1 by new member Croatia -- are due to decide at a June 27 and 28 summit whether sufficient progress has been achieved by Belgrade and Pristina in honouring the accord.

If so, Belgrade will be offered a start date to open negotiations for EU membership and Pristina a partnership accord, pending recognition by all of the bloc's members.

Monday's exchange of liaison officers comes as Belgrade accelerates moves to normalise ties following Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence in 2008.

Dejan Pavicevic, Serbia's representative in Pristina, and Kosovo's representative in Belgrade, Lulzim Peci symbolically began their work by briefly addressing journalists at the EU missions in the two capitals, where they will have their offices.

Their deployment comes barely 72 hours after Belgrade began to close down four police stations in northern Kosovo that are run by the Serbian home affairs ministry.

Their closure, due to be completed by June 20, is part of the April agreement allowing some autonomy for the 40,000 ethnic Serbs living in northern Kosovo who, like Belgrade, refuse to recognise Pristina.

The accord, which has not been formally published, offers the Serbs the post of police chief in the area as well as the majority voice in local courts but states that both the police and judiciary remain under Kosovo's control.

In another historical first, Dacic and Thaci appeared together on Sunday at a forum on Europe at Gottweig Abbey in Austria hailing their achievements in bringing about the accord between the two former foes 14 years after the war in Kosovo.

"I believe we have achieved more than anyone expected in Pristina, Belgrade, Vienna and Brussels," said Dacic.

"If we do not get a positive response from the EU, I do not know what we should do more," he said. "If not now, when (will) the EU be ready?"