Serbia, EU initial SAA

08/11/2007

Serbia and the EU have initialed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement -- seen as a key first step towards membership. However, full co-operation with the UN war crimes tribunal remains a condition for its actual signing.

By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade – 08/11/07

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(From left) Serbian President Boris Tadic, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic and EU Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn initial the Stabilisation and Association Agreement at the EU headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday (November 7th). [Getty Images]

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn in Brussels initialed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) on Wednesday (November 7th). The ceremony was also attended by Serbian President Boris Tadic.

The move came after UN chief war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte informed Rehn that Belgrade was co-operating sufficiently with The Hague tribunal. However, she has made it clear that handing over Ratko Mladic -- indicted for genocide in Srebrenica in 1995 -- remains a condition for actually signing and implementing the accord.

Initialing it means that the text has been settled and will not incorporate any essential changes. However, it will come into effect only after it is signed.

Tadic said he hoped this could happen in a few weeks. Mladic and other remaining fugitives will be delivered to the UN war crimes tribunal if they are hiding in Serbia, he promised.

"Some of the indictees may not be in Serbia," he said."That is why I cannot say we will arrest some of them. But if they are on Serbian territory, one must be sure we will arrest them and extradite them to The Hague," the president said.

Rehn said he hoped the agreement would be signed soon, but added it depends on Belgrade's actions.

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Some political analysts have said that the initialing of the agreement -- originally due in October, but postponed because of insufficient co-operation with the tribunal -- was meant to encourage the democratic bloc in Serbia as it grapples with the difficult issue of Kosovo's status. However, Rehn denied any such intent.

"Kosovo is being handled within the UN, while the process of association with the EU is being managed on another track," he said.

"It would be wrong to expect Serbia or any other country to give up Kosovo for the sake of quicker admission to the EU. The political debate in Serbia should be redirected from the nationalist past to a future in Europe," Rehn added.

Kostunica said the initialling shows the Serbian government is "in the best way demonstrating it can simultaneously successfully handle EU integration and defend the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty" through the Kosovo talks.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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