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19th Aug 2022

Serbian EU bid hangs by a thread, Rehn says

Enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn has told Serbia to continue cooperating with the UN's war crimes tribunal in The Hague, or face suspension of the talks it has just started with Brussels on closer EU ties.

Mr Rehn made the remarks on Monday (10 October) while visiting Belgrade for the ceremonial opening of negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association agreement (SAA) between Serbia and Montenegro and the EU – which represents a first step to possible future EU membership.

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He warned that the SAA talks could be suspended at any time if Belgrade fails to co-operate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), according to press reports.

The ICTY’s chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, has demanded that Serbia hands over war crimes suspects from the Bosnia war (1992-1995) to the court, and has only recently shown signs of satisfaction with Belgrade’s co-operation.

High on Ms Del Ponte’s list is the Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic, accused of genocide, who is believed to be hiding somewhere in Serbia.

Montenegro and Kosovo

On top of this, Mr Rehn told the leadership of Montenegro, which is currently tied to Serbia by a union, that its proposed referendum on independence should abide by international standards.

A three-year agreement on the united status of the two former Yugoslav republics will run out in February 2006, with a referendum on the cards for sometime next year.

The current SAA framework between Brussels and Belgrade covers both Serbia and Montenegro, but preliminary talks on the SAA were held separately with both countries.

Brussels fears that a break-up of the Serbia and Montenegro union will lead to destabilisation of Serbia, which also sees itself faced with a trend toward independence in the province of Kosovo.

Negotiations on the future status of Kosovo, currently a UN protectorate, are set to start shortly.

UN secretary general Kofi Annan has already informed the UN security council of his intention to start negotiations that will raise the questions of Kosovan independence and autonomy.

A Polish diplomat told EUobserver that Kosovo is the key to Serbia’s EU membership bid.

He said that Serbia would never agree to Kosovan independence unless there is a prospect of re-integrating Kosovo down the line via EU membership.

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