Serbs must resolve Kosovo relations for EU talks in June
By Matt Robinson
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia expects to clinch a date for EU accession talks in June, the deputy prime minister said on Tuesday, telling Serbs the last remaining obstacle - relations with Kosovo - must be resolved peacefully to win entry.
Mired in recession and spurred by the prospect of wartime foe Croatia joining the European Union in July, Serbia's six-month-old government says accession talks are its priority, but the West says Belgrade must first come to terms with the 2008 secession of its former Kosovo province.
The past 10 days have seen some of the boldest statements to that effect by a Serbian government since NATO bombs wrested control of the majority-Albanian territory from Belgrade in 1999.
"All Serbs and citizens of Serbia are aware that things must be resolved, peacefully and through talks," Aleksandar Vucic, who is also defense minister, told Reuters on Tuesday.
"For Serbia it is ... perhaps of fateful significance to speed up our European integration and above all in June to get a date for the start of (accession) negotiations," said the towering 42-year-old leader of the Serbian Progressive Party, the biggest party in the ruling coalition.
That would be a milestone for the Balkan nation of 7.3 million people, an international pariah under Slobodan Milosevic for its role in the bloody collapse of federal Yugoslavia and a brutal counter-insurgency war in Kosovo.
It also represents a sea change for Vucic, a once virulently anti-Western nationalist during the wars of the 1990s who now says Serbia's best hope of prosperity lies in EU membership.
On July 1, Serbs will watch Croatia become the second former Yugoslav republic, following Slovenia in 2004, to join the 27-nation bloc. Continued...