03 June 2007

EU officials to urge creation of Serb govt that would reconsider rejection of UN Kosovo plan

Associated Press, Wednesday, February 07, 2007 5:33 AM


BELGRADE, Serbia-Senior European Union officials are to visit Serbia Wednesday to urge the formation of a pro-democracy government that would reconsider its outright rejection of an U.N. plan for Kosovo.


In return, the EU could offer Serbia a quick resumption of pre-membership talks, called off last year over Belgrade's failure to arrest Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Gen. Ratko Mladic and hand him over to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.


EU officials hope a new government would abandon an outright rejection of the U.N. plan for Kosovo, which envisages that the breakaway southern province be granted internationally supervised self-rule with the trappings of statehood.


The formation of a new government is crucial for whether Serbia continues on its pro-European path, or return to its years of defiance and international isolation as during the rule of late autocrat Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s.


The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, the bloc's Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, were to arrive in Belgrade later Wednesday.


The three are expected to urge caretaker Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and President Boris Tadic to take part in negotiations with Kosovo's ethnic Albanians on the U.N. plan, which was presented last week to the rival sides. Both Tadic and Kostunica have rejected independence for the province.


Forming a government has been held up by disagreement over who should be the next prime minister.


Outgoing premier Vojislav Kostunica, a nationalist, insists on retaining his job, while the pro-Western Democratic Party, which emerged as the strongest within the reformist bloc after the Sept. 21 elections, wants the top post for their candidate.


Kostunica has left open a possibility of forming a coalition government with the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, which won the most votes in the election and had ruled Serbia together with Milosevic in the 1990s.


That would doom Serbia's pre-membership talks with the European Union. Serbian officials have expressed hope that if a pro-democracy government is formed soon, negotiations with the EU would resume even if Mladic is not immediately handed over to the U.N. war crimes tribunal.


Some EU officials have said this would be possible, but that the final Stabilization and Association Agreement with Serbia could be signed only when Mladic, who has been indicted for genocide during the 1992-95 Bosnia war, is handed over to the tribunal.