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Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci speaks during an interview with Reuters in his office in Pristina, Kosovo, February 13, 2018. REUTERS/Hazir Reka


By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo President Hashim Thaci ruled out on Tuesday partition of the country with Serbia along ethnic lines, an idea raised in Belgrade to settle a long-running dispute that is hindering both sides' ambitions to join the European Union.

Thaci is due to meet Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Brussels after the summer break under an EU-sponsored dialogue which has made little progress in normalising relations between Belgrade and Pristina since it was launched in 2013.

But Thaci dismissed suggestions that Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority but also a Serb minority, should be divided. Officials in Belgrade say partition, allowing Serbia to maintain control over northern Kosovo where ethnic Serbs form a majority, could be acceptable to both sides.

"I want to assure the people of Kosovo that there will be no force that will make Kosovo discuss and ... agree to partition," he told a news conference. "We need to reach an agreement with Serbia as soon as possible in order to have mutual recognition."

Serbia lost control of Kosovo in 1999 when NATO waged a bombing campaign to halt killings of ethnic Albanians in a two-year counter-insurgency war. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, backed by the United States and most EU countries.

Kosovo is recognised by more than 100 states, but not by Serbia and its traditional ally Russia. Belgrade still claims Kosovo as its integral part.

Serbian foreign minister Ivica Dacic said he had discussed partition of Kosovo during a visit last week to the United States, an outspoken advocate of Kosovan independence.

"The model of partition or delimitation is a proposal that I have pointed at as a solution ... now all cards are on the table," Dacic said after meeting Jared Kushner, the son in-law and a close adviser of President Donald Trump.

Serbia and Kosovo are under pressure to resolve all outstanding issues including defining borders in order to build closer ties with the EU and eventually join the bloc.

Serbs account for 5 percent of Kosovo's 1.8 million population. Most live north of the Ibar river and look to Belgrade as their government, refusing to recognise institutions in Pristina.

Partition is fiercely opposed by Serbian nationalists and the influential Serbian Orthodox Church who say they fear for the fate of Serbs that would remain scattered in enclaves inside Kosovo, their Orthodox Christian monasteries and church property.

(Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Editing by Ivana Sekularac and David Stamp)

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