Serbia to reject EU Kosovo plan over autonomy issue
Decision may delay accession talks despite intense pressure for deal on on former province
A woman walks past a mural last week depicting part of the Serbian coat of arms in the northern, Serb-dominated part of the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica in Kosovo. Photograph: Marko Djurica/Reuters
Serbia will reject a European Union-brokered plan for Kosovo as it fails to give broad autonomy to minority Serbs in its former province, an official said today, in a decision that may delay EU accession talks.
Serbia has been under intense western pressure to reach a deal with Kosovo, which seceded in 2008, before the EU rules on whether to open membership talks with the Balkan country. The bloc is expected to take a preliminary decision this month.
Deputy prime minister Aleksandar Vucic, leader of the largest party in Serbia's ruling coalition, said the proposal that has emerged from months of negotiations mediated by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton "fails to recognise our basic interests and should not be signed".
"We will ask that the dialogue continue, we need a solution as soon as possible," Mr Vucic told reporters after a meeting of leaders of his Serbian Progressive Party. He said the government would confirm the decision later today.
On April 16th, Ms Ashton is to issue a report likely to decide on whether the EU will open accession talks with Serbia this year - a process that would drive reform and help lure investors to the ailing Serbian economy, the biggest in the former Yugoslavia.
Kosovo, 90 per cent of whose 1.7 million people are Albanians, broke away in 1998-99 and declared independence in 2008. Serbia retained a fragile hold on a northern pocket where some 50,000 Serbs live in a de facto partition of the young country.
The EU says the partition must end, and Serbia and Kosovo must "normalise relations" in order for Belgrade to move ahead in its efforts to join the bloc.
Negotiations between the two broke up last week without result, and Serbia said Ms Ashton had set a Tuesday deadline for it to decide whether to accept the proposal, which aims to reintegrate the Serb-populated north with the rest of Kosovo.