Coalition for Democracy activists and other Kosovars march during a protest against the visa restrictions imposed on Kosovo for travel to the European Union and the decision of the EU not to extend Kosovo's preferential trade agreement, in the capital Pristina February 15 2011.
Serbia and Kosovo have begun two-day talks in Brussels on a range of technical issues, in an attempt to resolve day-to-day problems affecting people because of the standoff between Belgrade and Priština about Kosovo’s independence.
The dialogue is being held at the urging of several significant international players, not least the European Union, which have been pressing Serbia and Kosovo to proceed with talks after the International Court of Justice found no fault in international law with the February 2008 declaration of independence in Priština.
The dispute about Kosovo’s independence is not on the table at the Brussels meetings, which in the opening stages of the dialogue were expected to cover issues such as telecommunications, customs procedures, property issues, air traffic control and regional trade and co-operation.
EU External Action Service diplomat Robert Cooper is mediating the sessions in Brussels
Maja Kocijancic, a spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, was quoted by RFE/RL as saying that the dialogue hopefully would advance Serbia and Kosovo closer toward eventual EU membership.
"The main objective of the talks is to improve the lives of the people on the ground but also the western Balkans as a whole, and to bring both Serbia and Kosovo closer to the EU and to European standards," Kocijancic said.
Serbian chief negotiator Borko Stefanovic said: "We will try to resolve some key issues between us by year's end and we are optimists, though miracles should not be expected".
Kosovo’s negotiator, deputy prime minister Edita Tahiri said that she wanted the talks to contribute to the normalisation of relations and underlined that Priština would never accept the issue of independence being the subject of negotiations, saying that this was a closed chapter.
Ashton said that she was "confident" that Belgrade and Priština would find practical ways to promote bilateral co-operation.
In Washington, US deputy assistant secretary of state for South Central Europe Thomas Countryman told the Voice of America that the talks were a "dialogue and not a negotiation" on the political status of Kosovo.
The European Union has invited the US government to attend the meetings as a guest.
The aim for the dialogue is for the March 8 and 9 sessions to be an overture to further meetings, with the idea being for the two sides to reconvene frequently in the coming months.