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Posted on on January 29th, 2008
by Pincas Jawetz (

Netherlands says it will block EU deal with Serbia.
Associated Press January 28, 2008 from Brussels.

The Netherlands said Monday it would block a European Union pre-membership accord with Serbia until Belgrade brings key war crimes suspects to trial at a UN tribunal.

Such a deal has been supported by some EU nations that argue there is a necessity to reach out to Serbia, rather than isolate it, especially as Serbs prepare to elect a president and the southern province of Kosovo looks set to declare independence.

But opposition from the Netherlands would block the accord, which needs unanimous approval from all 27 EU nations.

“We will not sign an agreement until there is full co-operation” from Belgrade with the UN’s Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, deputy Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans said on arrival at an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels.

The ministers were to discuss the pre-membership deal on Monday. Some countries have held it up as a way to mitigate anti-Western sentiment in Serbia fuelled by European and U.S. support for Kosovo’s independence. Serbia is fiercely opposed to letting go of the predominantly ethnic Albanian territory.

But the Netherlands wants Belgrade to first hand over Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, who led the Serb faction during Bosnia’s civil war in the early 1990s, to the UN tribunal in The Hague.

“We think its really important that Serbia becomes part of the European family,” Mr. Timmermans told reporters.

He added the EU must only sign a so-called Stabilization and Association Agreement “when there is full co-operation [from Belgrade] with the Yugoslav tribunal. We have not yet reached that situation.”

Belgrade says it is doing all it can to co-operate with the tribunal but that it cannot find Mr. Mladic and Mr. Karadzic. While there is sympathy for that view in some EU capitals, the Dutch insist only their arrests would constitute full co-operation.

Most EU nations favour a pre-membership deal that would offer trade and co-operation advantages to Serbia and set it on track to open membership talks with the EU.

Olli Rehn and Javier Solana, the EU’s enlargement commissioner and foreign affairs chief, stressed the need to sign the agreement quickly.

“What is at stake is that the Serbian people are choosing between a European future and their nationalist past,” Mr. Rehn said. “We should today send a very strong signal [for] a European future for the Serbian people by deciding to sign this Stabilization and Association Agreement.”

Similarly, Solana urged EU governments to be “very constructive [and] show our commitment to get Serbia as close as possible to the European Union.”

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband insisted the bloc must “send a clear signal that we continue to see Serbia’s future with the European Union. Rather than against it.”

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