Thursday, July 13, 2006

EU: Serbia Talks To Restart On Compliance With UN Court

HELSINKI (AP)--The European Union Thursday said talks on forging closer ties with Serbia could resume immediately if Serbia cooperates fully with the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

"We are able to restart the negotiations for Serbia's association agreement even on the same day if we find that Serbia is fully cooperating with the Hague court," E.U. Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said.

Talks on an association agreement - the first step toward eventual E.U. membership - were broken off in May after Serbia failed to arrest and hand over Gen. Ratko Mladic, wanted by the U.N. court on charges of genocide in the 1992-95 war in Bosnia.

Rehn told reporters in Helsinki that the E.U. presidency would meet Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica on Monday, who will present an "action plan" designed to ensure full cooperation with the tribunal, including the arrest and extradition of Mladic to The Hague.

"More important than the plan, which in itself is a good tool, is what happens in practice. The ball is in the Serbian court," Rehn said.

"On its part, the E.U. will strive to support democratic development in Serbia," Rehn said. "The country at the moment is politically pretty much on a knife's edge and I trust that the Serbian nation and leaders will choose a European future rather than a nationalistic past," he said, referring to the growing popularity of the far-right Radical Party which is opposed to cooperation with the war crimes court.

Rehn said the E.U. will start association negotiations with the newly independent Montenegro when it gets a mandate from E.U. member states. Earlier, he said a mandate was possible by September, after which the pre-entry deal could be concluded.

The small Balkan nation became independent from Serbia after a referendum in May.

Finland took over the E.U.'s rotating, six-month presidency on July 1, and says the Balkans will be a priority issue during its turn at the helm.

The other big issue in the region is the U.N.-mediated effort to settle Kosovo's postwar status - negotiations that Rehn said the E.U. is supporting. The U.N.-administered province remains part of Serbia, but its ethnic-Albanian population wants independence.

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