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Serbia-EU relations set to improve ahead of Kosovo decision

After Serbia helped arrest a key war-crimes fugitive last week, the EU has promised to resume integration talks.

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As the last vestige of Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia, Serbia has had trouble getting along with the European Union.

Last year, EU partnership talks broke down over Serbia's failure to turn over its top fugitive, former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, who is wanted on genocide charges by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague.

But Serbia's role in the arrest late last week of the Balkans' third most-wanted man – Mr. Mladic's aide, Zdravko Tolimir – signals improved relations between the country's new government and the EU. Indicted by the ICTY for his role in the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebenica, Mr. Tolimir was apprehended in a joint operation between Serb and Bosnian Serb police forces near the Bosnian-Serbian border.

"Serbia has now demonstrated clear commitment to full cooperation with the ICTY," EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said this weekend, promising that EU integration talks would resume as soon as June. The exact relaunch date will be decided after ICTY prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, who arrived Monday in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, for a week-long visit, issues a report on Serbia's compliance with the ICTY.

The development is significant, coming just ahead of an expected mid-month decision by the UN Security Council on the controversial status of Kosovo, a Serbian province considered the cradle of Serbian civilization that is today populated mainly by ethnic Albanians.

But some worry that allowing Serbia to continue talks while Tolimir's commander, Mladic, remains free, undermines the EU's credibility and may not help bring in either Mladic or the four other fugitive war-crimes suspects.

While this past winter, Belgium and Holland appeared to be the last member states holding out for Serbia to turn over Mladic before allowing talks to resume, other member states seemed keen to throw Serbia a bone in hopes that the country would be more amenable to diplomatic proposals on Kosovo, which will most likely gain independence this year. Serbia opposes any sort of independence for the province, which has been run by the UN since a NATO bombing campaign in 1999 drove Serb forces out.

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