EU offers speedy end to Serbia talks if Mladic is caught
15.05.06 @ 17:24
BRUSSELS - European foreign ministers on Monday (15 May) again dangled the carrot of closing preliminary EU integration talks with Serbia by the end 2006, if Belgrade hands over war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic quickly.
"The council underlines that a swift conclusion of the negotiations according to the timetable envisaged by the commission (end of 2006) is still within reach," the ministers' statement said.
The enticement comes after Brussels on 3 May froze negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) - the first legal step to joining the EU - over Serbia's foot-dragging on the Mladic issue.
The decision sent shockwaves through Belgrade, leading to the resignation of Serbia's deputy prime minister over his government's inaction and strong words from Montenegro leaders, saying the country's EU goals should not be "held hostage" by Belgrade.
Montenegro will on Sunday (21 May) hold a referendum on ending its political union with Serbia, with EU ministers on Monday also warning against any "undue interference" in the vote, in a thinly-veiled allusion to Serbian opposition to the move.
The pro-independence Montenegro government believes it will split from Serbia and join the UN by September, Balkans agency DTT-NET.COM reported earlier this month.
Ratko Mladic - implicated in the 1995 slaughter of 8,000 muslim boys and men in Srebrenica - became the fulcrum of EU-Serbia relations after the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague secured information that he is hiding in Serbia.
Serbian authorities in the past few weeks have arrested a handful of men believed to be helping shelter the fugitive in an attempt to show goodwill to the international community, while blaming nationalist sympathisers in its own intelligence services for the delay.
Serbia is facing another challenge to its territorial integrity from UN-led talks on the potential independence of Kosovo later this year, with EU diplomats repeatedly saying the majority-Kosovan Albanian province should become an independent state.
A second Srebrenica-related Serb fugitive, Radovan Karadzic, is believed by the UN to be hiding in the Serbian region of Republika Srbrska in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The EU on Monday also scotched rumours that it plans to reduce the number of its peacekeeping troops in Bosnia and Kosovo "at the sensitive time of status talks."