Kosovo, Serbia hail breakthrough deal

Pristina: Kosovo and Serbia on Sunday hailed the first deal on resolving nuts-and-bolts problems created by Pristina's declared independence as a step towards European integration.

A five-month EU-brokered dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina produced first results late yesterday as the two sides agreed on issues such as freedom of movement and what to do about Serbia holding civil registries since the end of the 1998-1999 conflict.

According to the deal citizens of Kosovo, a former Serbian province, will be able to cross the border with Serbia and move freely around the country with personal documents issued by Pristina authorities, excluding passports.

Belgrade up to now had considered Kosovo vehicle number-plates and ID as invalid, preventing Kosovars from using the shortest route to western Europe.

This was a particular headache for some of the 150,000-strong Kosovo diaspora in EU countries, who welcomed the agreement with relief.

Agush Hasani, 62, whose two sons live and work in Germany, hopes to see them more frequently now.

"It was a nightmare for them to travel to Kosovo by car as it took around 30 hours" along roads around Serbia, Hasani said.

Gani Hoda of a Pristina-based tourist agency said he and most of his fellow colleagues had been waiting for the agreement for a long time.

"Our bus, which left Switzerland yesterday, had to take a roundabout route through Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro to get to Kosovo instead of going straight across Serbia," Hoda said.

"The journey is not only 10 hours longer but increases travel expenses by up to 700 euros per bus."

A Kosovo Serb leader, Rada Trajkovic, said the deal will also make the life of the Serb minority in Kosovo easier, which has been unable to travel throughout the territory with identity papers and driving licences issued by Serbian authorities.

Serbia has vowed never to recognise Kosovo as a state, considering it as its southern province, but 76 countries, including the United States and 22 of the 27 EU member states, have recognised its independence in 2008.