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EU states divided on Serbia strategy

  • Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica presented a plan but no results to ministers on Monday (Photo: European Commission)

(Updated 18.07.2006 - 15.20 CET) EU member states are divided on whether talks with Serbia on closer ties can resume if Belgrade proves it is trying to arrest war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic, with several capitals demanding an actual arrest of the top fugitive.

Some EU governments have lately begun to show flexibility on resuming talks with Serbia on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), cut off in May after Belgrade failed to hand over Mr Mladic to the International Criminal tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

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"Not all governments are in the same line. Some countries are still saying that SAA talks can resume only after the arrest and transfer of Mladic to The Hague," sources of the Finnish government which currently holds the current EU rotating presidency told DTT-NET.COM.

Some EU capitals are afraid of the prospect of political radicalisation in Serbia, whose national pride is already being put to the test over possible Kosovo independence.

A diplomat from an EU member state told DTT-NET.COM that "If Carla Del Ponte [the ICTY's chief prosecutor] tells us [the EU] that Belgrade proves it's making efforts to arrest Mladic, then we could consider resuming the SAA negotiations."

EU division over the matter emerged just as Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica presented EU foreign ministers on Monday (17 July) with an "action plan" on the Mladic arrest.

"It contains a clear commitment of full cooperation with the ICTY including the arrest and transfer of Mladic to The Hague," Finnish foreign Erkki Tuomioja said about the action plan.

"It's primarily in Serbia's interest to complete the full cooperation with ICTY" Kostunica reassured reporters.

Belgrade's plan contains a media campaign within Serbia to gain citizens' backing for the arrest of Mr Mladic - considered by many as a national hero - as well as security reforms and improved cooperation mechanisms with the ICTY.

"It's a good document," the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana said.

But Mr Tuomioja warned that Belgrade's pledges must be translated into deeds.

"Obviously the plan needs to be developed further and the implementation of the action must begin immediately," the Finnish minister said.

EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn echoed these calls, saying "action is more important than the plan", but he declined questions from reporters on whether he would agree to resume SAA talks with Belgrade if Mladic is not actually arrested.

Barroso sceptical

On Tuesday (18 July), European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said he "welcomed" the plan, but also voiced strong criticism about Belgrade's efforts to catch Mr Mladic.

After meeting Serbian president Boris Tadic, he stated:

"The question is the following: if a plan was necessary to deliver them, why has that plan only appeared now ? It should have been made before. Anyway, we have it now, let's hope that the results are achieved."

The aim of the SAA agreement, an instrument used by Brussels for the whole western Balkan region, is to bring EU hopeful states' legislation in line with EU standards, while also promoting economic and trade relations within the region and between the Western Balkans and the EU.

An SAA agreement is a necessary hurdle to take for EU aspirants before Brussels considers formal membership.

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