Defiant Serbia rejects Kosovo deal
Serbia has rejected a European Union-brokered deal for reconciliation with its former province of Kosovo - a defiant move that could jeopardise the Balkan country's EU membership aspirations and fuel tensions in the region.
The EU had given Serbia until Tuesday to say whether it would relinquish its effective control over northern Kosovo in exchange for the start of membership negotiations.
Even before the rejection, a top leader said the plan was unacceptable because it did not give more autonomy to minority ethnic Serbs in Kosovo who together with Serbia reject Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence.
"The Serbian government cannot accept the proposed principles ... because they do not guarantee full security, survival and protection of human rights for the Serbs in Kosovo," Serbia's prime minister Ivica Dacic said. "Such an agreement could not be implemented and would not lead to a lasting and sustainable solution."
Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, said after the eighth round of talks between Serbian and Kosovo officials last week in Brussels that she wanted a response from both sides and that the bloc's mediation was over.
Kosovo's government said it was "disappointed with Serbia's refusal" but remained hopeful a deal could still be reached.
"The proposals made by the EU... would have marked the beginning of closure in a historic conflict in the region," a Kosovo government statement said.
While some 90 countries - including the United States and most EU nations - have recognised Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence, it has been rejected by Serbia and ally Russia.
The most contentious issue in the talks was the status of northern Kosovo, where ethnic Serbs dominate the population and refuse to accept the authority of the ethnic Albanian-controlled government in Kosovo's capital, Pristina.