Serbia’s president has refused to meet his Kosovo counterpart at European Union-backed talks, dashing hopes of an imminent improvement in long-strained relations between the two countries.

Hopes of a breakthrough had been relatively high after a territory swap had been suggested as part of a package to normalise relations between Serbia and its former province.

They must patch up their differences to stand a chance of joining the EU.

However, after separate meetings on an array of issues with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said “difficulties remain”.

Behind the scenes in Brussels, there were few signs of a change in the rhetoric.

Marko Djuric, a leading Serbian negotiator, said Vucic refused to meet Thaci because of recent “threats and deceits” from Kosovo.