The EU and Serbia returned to the negotiating table for talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) on Wednesday (June 13th), more than 13 months after the process was put on hold.“It’s good to be back,” Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic said in Brussels, following discussions on the treaty with EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn. “We will do our best to initial the SAA in the next few months … achieving the status of a candidate country is the target for next year.”
The EU suspended the pre-accession talks with Belgrade in May 2006 due to its lack of co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), particularly its failure to arrest one of its most wanted indictees, Ratko Mladic. The former Bosnian Serb military commander has been charged with genocide over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
The EU decided to revive the negotiations earlier this month following the handover of another key genocide suspect — former Bosnian Serb General Zdravko Tolimir — to The Hague.
Rehn warned, however, that the talks cannot be concluded until all fugitives sought by the ICTY are turned over.
Mladic “will be arrested as soon as he is found”, Djelic said. He suggested that Serbian authorities have information on the whereabouts of former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, who tops the UN tribunal’s most wanted list.
Welcoming the resumption of the SAA talks, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica pledged on Wednesday that his country would take steps to “fulfill all generally accepted European standards”.
But he also urged the 27-nation bloc to back down on its support for UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari’s status plan for Kosovo, which would grant the province supervised independence.
Speaking at Wednesday’s joint press conference with Djelic, Rehn said that Serbia’s EU accession path and Kosovo’s status are two separate issues.
Urging Belgrade to “respect a solution for Kosovo based on the UN Security Council resolution”, he also cautioned it against seeking closer ties with Russia — which has backed Serbia’s stance on the Ahtisaari plan — than with the West.
“We all of course want to have good relations with Russia,” Rehn said. “[But] one has to be careful that when hugging even a friendly big bear, one wouldn’t be suffocated.”