Monday, September 25, 2006

Senior U.S. diplomat visits Serbia

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - A senior U.S. diplomat met with Serbian officials Monday, discussing bilateral relations, war crimes issues and the country's troubled southern province of Kosovo.

Daniel Fried, U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, met first with President Boris Tadic, who expressed gratitude for U.S. support for Serbia's efforts to join NATO and the European Union.

Serbia's ambitions, however, remain blocked until it captures and extradites war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic, a former Serb commander sought by the Netherlands-based U.N. war crimes court for atrocities committed during the Bosnian war.

Tadic acknowledged that it is "Serbia's obligation, as well as a very important issue for our society" to cooperate with the U.N. tribunal.

Fried also met with Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who reiterated Serbia's rejection of the possible secession of Kosovo, the southern province where ethnic Albanians demand independence.

The United Nations hopes to resolve Kosovo's status by the end of the year, but talks have stalled with both sides unwilling to compromise on their demands.

Kosovo has been a U.N. protectorate since 1999 when NATO air raids forced Serbia to halt its crackdown on the separatists and pull its troops out.

"Kosovo has always been and will remain part of Serbia," Kostunica stressed in a statement. He reiterated Belgrade's proposal that Kosovo enjoy self-rule and broad autonomy, without a change of borders.

"It is necessary to respect international law, particularly the principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity" of countries, Kostunica added.

He described Serbia's trade relations with the United States as "very good, with great possibilities for further improvement."

Fried is expected to visit Kosovo after Belgrade.

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