Belgrade wants international guarantees for Kosovo Serbs

BELGRADE - Serbia wants a political accord with international guarantees for ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo and is ready to sign such an agreement, Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said Tuesday.

"Serbia is ready for a political accord with international guarantees (with Kosovo) as it would eliminate the danger of armed conflict in the region," Dacic told reporters after Monday's talks with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Brussels.

The ongoing EU-backed talks between Kosovo and Serbia have reached an impasse as Belgrade wants the establishment of an association of Serb municipalities with "executive powers" in the breakaway territory, a demand Pristina has rejected.

"If Pristina accepts (such a solution), I am ready to sign" the accord, Dacic said.

Dacic said that Kosovo Serbs should have "decisive influence" on security and justice issues in the areas where they make up a majority. Northern Kosovo is home to some 40,000 Serbs who, like Belgrade, reject Pristina's unilateral declaration of independence in 2008.

"We do not talk about legislative, but executive authority," Dacic said.

He warned that he was not too "optimistic that the agreement will be reached."

"I am ready for a compromise, but for now, I do not see that Pristina is ready to modify its stance as it enjoys US support," Dacic said.

"The ball is now in Pristina's court," he added.

Late Monday, Ashton met with conservative Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, Dacic and his deputy Aleksandar Vucic, to discuss progress reached so far in the talks between Belgrade and Pristina.

"I stressed the importance of reaching agreements on the open issues between the two sides as soon as possible," Ashton said in a statement.

Ashton is to visit Pristina on Thursday for talks with top Kosovo officials.

Improved relations with Kosovo and concrete progress in EU-backed dialogue between the neighbours are key Brussels conditions for Serbia to be given a date to start EU accession talks.

Since October, Dacic and Kosovo Premier Hashim Thaci have been inching towards a solution over a number of sensitive issues that are burdening daily life in the breakaway territory.

Serbia lost its influence over Kosovo after a NATO bombing campaign in 1999 stopped a crackdown by Belgrade forces on the independence-minded ethnic Albanian majority there.

Belgrade has pledged it will never accept the independence of Kosovo, already recognised by more than 90 countries, including the United States and most EU member-states.

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