Thursday, July 13, 2006

EU has responsibilty for Balkan stability: minister

HELSINKI, July 13, 2006 (AFP) -

The European Union (EU) has a special responsibility for the stabilisation of the Balkans, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said on Thursday.

"The EU has a particular responsibility for democracy and stability in the western Balkans and Kosovo," Rehn told reporters in Helsinki.

"We cannot have an exit strategy (from the Balkans), we must have an entry strategy," Rehn added.

The Finnish commissioner welcomed Albania's signing of an association and stabilisation agreement with the EU in June, the first step to membership of the bloc.

Rehn called on Tirana to implement the accord and respect its commitments to fight corruption and organised crime.

The EU will also have a responsibility towards Kosovo once its status is agreed and accepted, Rehn said.

"Our fundamental interest is that peace will prevail and stability will be strengthened in Kosovo," he said.

Rehn called on Pristina and Belgrade to constructively negotiate Kosovo's disputed status.

An agreement on Kosovo's status is set for the end of 2006. Leaders of Kosovo's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority, backed by Tirana, are pushing for independence, a demand the Serbian government firmly opposes, offering instead wide autonomy for the province.

Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations and NATO since 1999, when bombing by the latter drove out forces loyal to former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic involved in a crackdown against separatist ethnic Albanian rebels.

Five former Yugoslav republics, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, as well as Albania are currently in accession talks with the EU.

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