Serbia-Montenegro is on track to sign a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU this fall, but only if it meets its international obligations and hands over fugitive war crimes indictee Ratko Mladic.
By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade – 28/02/06
Foreign Affairs Minister Vuk Draskovic (centre) shakes hands with EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn (left) as Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik looks on prior to the EU Serbia-Montenegro Council in Brussels on Monday (27 February). [Getty Images]
Meeting in Brussels on Monday (27 February), the EU foreign ministers made it clear to Serbia that it must co-operate fully with the UN war crimes tribunal by the end of March if it wants to avoid suspension of Serbia-Montenegro's talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the Union.
"Full co-operation with the tribunal must be achieved to ensure that the negotiations are not disrupted," the European Council said in a statement. It called on both Serbia-Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina "to take decisive action to ensure that all remaining fugitive indictees, notably Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, are finally brought to justice without delay".
Addressing the meeting, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said co-operation with the tribunal not only had failed to improve, but in fact had deteriorated. If not for the war crimes issue, Serbia-Montenegro would be on track to sign an SAA by this fall, Rehn indicated.
In order for that to happen, Rehn said, Belgrade must do everything in its power to demonstrate full co-operation -- in particular, by handing over Mladic. To avoid delaying the political round of SAA talks, due to begin on 5 April, it must meet its international obligations before the end of March, he added.
Serbia-Montenegro Foreign Affairs Minister Vuk Draskovic was in Brussels Monday, hoping to convince EU officials not to halt the talks. He met with Rehn, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Austrian Foreign Affairs Minister Ursula Plassnik.
Blocking the road to accession would be the wrong approach because that is exactly what The Hague fugitives and the ultranationalists who support them would like to see happen, Draskovic argued.
Elements of the former Milosevic regime are protecting Mladic, Draskovic told the EU officials, adding that they are opposed to a democratic and European future for Serbia because they hope to regain power.
He repeated the government's claim that authorities do not know Mladic's whereabouts and are doing all they could to arrest him.
Meanwhile, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica pledged on Monday that Serbia would respect all the international obligations it assumed.
"The messages coming from Brussels say the same thing -- how Serbia is oriented towards Europe and how Europe is oriented toward Serbia, while to be in Europe means to respect our international obligations and we shall respect them," Kostunica said.