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Serbia, Kosovo reach tentative deal

BRUSSELS -- Serbia and Kosovo reached a potentially historic agreement yesterday to normalize relations between the Balkan neighbors, end years of acrimony and put both on a solid path to European Union membership.

The tentative deal culminated months of tense negotiations and showed the determination of both Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, EU negotiator Catherine Ashton said.

In what would be an extraordinary change, the deal appeared to recognize the authority of the Kosovo government over the north of the country, which is inhabited predominantly by ethnic Serbs.

But Dacic appeared to indicate there was a chance the deal could still come unstuck, saying Serbia's top leadership would decide whether to accept or reject it "in the next few days."

Details of the agreement were scant, but Dacic said it was "better than any other we were offered in the past." Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, declared independence in 2008.

Over the years, Belgrade has said it would never recognize the sovereignty of Kosovo, which is considered by Serbia's nationalists to be the cradle of the country's medieval statehood and religion.

Kosovo has been recognized by more than 90 countries including the United States and 22 of the EU's 27 members.

Serbia relinquished control of most of Kosovo in 1999 when NATO chased its troops out of the region. Ending the partition of Kosovo between the Albanian majority and the Serb-controlled north is a key condition of Serbia's further progress toward EU membership. -- AP

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