Serbia approves Kosovo deal: Government

Serbia`s government on Monday approved an EU-brokered deal to normalise ties with breakaway Kosovo.

Updated: Apr 22, 2013, 15:01 PM IST

Belgrade: Serbia`s government on Monday approved an EU-brokered deal to normalise ties with breakaway Kosovo, a historic agreement aimed at turning the page on the Balkans` last simmering trouble-spot 14 years after the end of hostilities.

The government has accepted the "first accord on principles which regulate normalisation of relations, reached during the dialogue on Kosovo in Brussels" on Friday, said a statement issued after a cabinet meeting.

The government has instructed ministries to take "the necessary measures" to implement the accord, it added.

The Serbian parliament is also due to discuss the deal later this week, but it is expected to be approved as the ruling coalition has a comfortable majority in the assembly.

In Pristina, Kosovo`s parliament on Monday adopted a "resolution" approving the so-called Brussels accord, which grants some autonomy to ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo who refuse to recognise Pristina`s authority.

"The parliament expresses its support and gives its approval to the accord on the normalisation of relations" between Belgrade and Pristina, the decision said.

The decisions came as European Union foreign ministers were meeting in Luxembourg for discussions that will include talks on the European Commission`s reports on progress made by Serbia and Kosovo in their bids for EU membership.

The normalisation accord between Serbia and Kosovo is one of the key conditions for both sides to move closer to the EU.

Serbia is expecting Brussels to set a much-coveted date to start membership talks, while Pristina wants to make the first steps towards applying for candidacy.

The 15-point accord spells out the basic principles that would give a level of autonomy to some 40,000 ethnic Serbs living in the north of predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo.

The text of the accord has yet to be made public by the EU, but according to local media in Serbia and Kosovo, the Kosovo Serbs will have their own police and justice representatives, working under Pristina`s authority, in the areas where they make up a majority of the population.

"Municipal elections shall be organised in the northern municipalities in 2013," an unofficial draft of the text said.

It also noted that an "implementation plan, including the time frame, shall be produced by April 26."

"It is agreed that neither side will block or encourage others to block the other side`s progress in their respective EU paths," it added.

But the deal has angered Kosovo Serbs in the north who have called for a protest rally to be held in Kosovska Mitrovica later on Monday, the main town in the northern area of the breakaway territory.

On Saturday the prime minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, called on Kosovo Serbs "not to fear the accord".

He promised them "new opportunities for investment, development, employment and the creation of a democratic and multi-ethnic environment" in Kosovo.

"Conditions are met for a new era and a new life and the accord is in the interest of Kosovo, Serbia, and above all, the Serbs in the north," Thaci said.

In total, some 120,000 ethnic Serbs live in Kosovo.

Like Belgrade, they reject Kosovo`s 2008 independence declaration, which came almost a decade after the 1998-1999 conflict that ended with a NATO bombing campaign against late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic`s forces.

Almost 100 countries -- including the United States and most EU countries -- have recognised Kosovo`s independence.