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Serbian government approves deal with Kosovo

  • Article by: DUSAN STOJANOVIC
  • Associated Press
  • April 22, 2013 - 5:38 AM

BELGRADE, Serbia - The Serbian government on Monday approved a potentially landmark agreement to normalize relations with breakaway Kosovo that could end years of tensions and put the Balkan rivals on a path to European Union membership.

The government approved the deal unanimously at an extraordinary session and ordered ministries to implement it, said government spokesman Milivoje Mihajlovic.

The prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo reached a tentative EU-mediated deal in Brussels on Friday that would give Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership authority over rebel Kosovo Serbs. In return, the minority Serbs would get wide autonomy within Kosovo.

After the Serbian approval, the EU's executive Commission recommended on Monday that the bloc should start membership negotiations with Serbia. The Commission said in a report that `'Serbia has taken very significant steps towards visible and sustainable improvement in relations with Kosovo."

Kosovo, which is considered by nationalists to be the medieval cradle of the Serbian state and religion, declared independence in 2008. Serbia has vowed never to recognize it, and Serbian officials insist that the latest agreement does not mean Belgrade has de-facto recognized Kosovo's statehood.

The agreement has triggered outrage among Serb nationalists who plan major demonstrations in Belgrade and in Kosovo on Monday.

On Sunday, Kosovo's parliament voted in favor of a resolution to support the initial agreement. The Serbian parliament is expected to do the same later this week.

The agreement allows Serbs to police and manage the north of Kosovo, which is inhabited predominantly by ethnic Serbs, in exchange for nominal recognition of the authority of the Kosovo government. It also calls for the two sides not to obstruct one another as they seek eventual membership in the EU.

Serbia relinquished control of most of Kosovo in 1999 when NATO chased its troops out of the region after a three-month bombing campaign. Ending the partition of Kosovo between the Albanian majority and the Serb-controlled north — about a fifth of the country — is a key condition of Serbia's further progress toward EU membership.

It is not clear how the deal will be implemented on the ground in northern Kosovo where hardline Serb leaders vehemently reject any authority coming from Pristina's ethnic Albanians and consider the region a part of Serbia.

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Associated Press writers Jovana Gec in Belgrade and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.

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