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Slovenia heads EU as Balkan neighbors begin to stir

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For Slovenia, escaping the rotating presidency of the former Yugoslavia and earning the EU presidency has proven a long trip in a short time. It is also sensitive and tricky, analysts say.

"Kosovo will be the defining issue of Slovenia's presidency," says a Western diplomat here. Slovenia is attempting to manage the demands of 27 states, while not angering Serbia, Kosovo, or other Balkan neighbors.

This week the EU foreign ministers voted not to give an easy path to Serbia for EU membership until Belgrade takes steps to hand over Gen. Ratko Mladic, accused of war crimes in Bosnia. But in a later deal, the EU offered Serbia perks such as freer trade and expedited visas that have not been allowed other EU candidates. In a five-hour Brussels meeting described as "extremely grueling," Slovenia came out strongly in favor of making Kosovo's status and Serbian EU membership separate issues.

"We want to exhaust every effort to help Serbia and Kosovo. We aren't putting all our eggs in one basket, either Kosovo or Serbia," Mr. Rupel says. "In the years we were together in Yugoslavia … Belgrade was a very competent administrative center. Serbia is capable of being in the family…. In a few years, everyone will be in Europe, this is my belief."

Rupel also spoke of possible delays on both Kosovo independence and the deployment of 1,800 EU police officers to Kosovo, but would not say more.

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