BRUSSELS — Marathon EU-mediated talks between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo have broken up without a deal, the participants said early Wednesday.
The talks, which took place in Brussels, were an attempt to resolve one of the most difficult issues dividing the two sides – the status of Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, an EU official said. The talks broke up early Wednesday.
Kosovo, a former Serbian province, declared independence in 2008. While many countries have recognized it as an independent country, Serbia has not.
Neither have many ethnic Serbs living in northern Kosovo, who reject the authority of the government in Pristina, the Kosovo capital.
Serbia is required to normalize relations with its neighbors if it wants ultimately to join the European Union.
Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, speaking after midnight following a meeting of about 13 hours, said through a translator that Kosovo had put forward proposals in line with its laws and constitution – proposals that he said would have integrated all citizens, including ethnic Serbs, into the life of Kosovo.
But he said the proposals were met with "hesitation" on the Serbian side. He said the Serbian officials had decided to "reflect" and he still hoped an agreement could be reached next week.
Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic left without speaking in English, though he said no agreement had been reached, according to journalists who spoke Serbo-Croatian.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a written statement that the meeting – the eighth face-to-face meeting between the two prime ministers, all under EU mediation – was the last formal meeting she would call between the parties.
"They will now both go back and consult with their colleagues in their capitals and will let me know in the next few days of their decision," the statement said. "I wish them a good journey home and every possible success in reaching a conclusion."
Any agreement would be a landmark for the region, and a major step toward peace in the Balkans, which were riven in the 1990s by bloody wars associated with the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Although Kosovo has won broad international acceptance of its independence, the ethnic Serbs living in northern Kosovo – up to 50,000 people in and around the divided city of Mitrovica – have rejected the authority of the government in Pristina, the Kosovo capital. They have created so-called parallel institutions, including hospitals and schools, all financed and supported from the Serbian capital, Belgrade.
Many Serbs in Kosovo's north had said that any agreement that separated them from Serbia would not be acceptable.
"No way will we go with the Pristina authorities," said Tomislav Kostic, a resident of Mitrovica. "Only with the state of Serbia and that's it."
In the southern part of Mitrovica, ethnic Albanian Adem Mripa said the territory was part of Kosovo. He demanded reciprocity for the Albanian minority in Serbia's south.
"If they want autonomy here they should give it to Albanians in the south, to the Hungarian and Bosnian (minorities), Mripa said. "I am for talks, but talks that are forward-looking and visionary and peaceful."
In a sign of the underlying tensions, Kosovo police said unknown assailants threw a fire bomb Tuesday into the offices of moderate Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic in the Serb-run part of the country. No one was in the office when the attack was launched, minutes before midnight Monday. Ivanovic backs Serbia's claim over Kosovo, but many radical Serbs think that he might work with the ethnic Albanian authorities in Pristina.
Associated Press videojournalist Sylvain Plazy in Brussels, and AP writers Radul Radovanovic and Nebi Qena in Mitrovica, Kosovo, contributed to this report. Don Melvin can be reached at https://twitter.com/Don_Melvin