05 November 2008 BelgradeÂ – Serbia could receive EU candidate status in 2009, the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Wednesday as he kicked off his one-day visit to Belgrade.
â€œI support (President Boris) Tadicâ€™s vision of Serbia, to become an EU member and the leader of the Western Balkansâ€™ integration process,â€ Miliband told reporters.
He also stressed that Serbiaâ€™s full cooperation with the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands was needed to secure the full implementation of the interim trade agreement with the 27-nation bloc.
According to Miliband, Belgrade can speed up its bid to join the European Union, if it arrests and extradites fugitive wartime Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, the wartime leader of Serbs in Croatia during the 1991-1995 wars that ravaged former Yugoslavia.
“The EU wants Serbia aboard as it believes that a strong and prosperous Serbia means a strong and prosperous Western Balkans,” Miliband said as quoted by local media at a meeting with Belgrade students earlier on Wednesday.
Miliband met President Boris Tadic and was scheduled to meet his Serbian counterpart Vuk Jeremic and other top officials.
The British Foreign Minister was also expected to review developments related with the deployment of the EUâ€™s new law-and-order mission, EULEX, to Kosovo.
Miliband said that the deployment of the EULEX mission in Kosovo was going according to plan.
Serbia argues that both EULEX and the outgoing United Nations mission’s â€˜reconfiguration’, the term used to describe the UNâ€™s preparations to leave Kosovo and make way for EULEX, contravenes international law.
The government in Belgrade claims that under the UN Security Council Resolution 1244, passed in 1999 at the end of the conflict between Serb forces and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian fighters, only the UN can administer Kosovo on Serbia’s behalf.
Accepting the mission was not an added condition for Serbiaâ€™s European integration but it was one for developing â€œgood neighbourly relationsâ€ with Kosovo, he said.
Miliband said that “all 27 EU nations support the deployment of EULEX.” He said that only five EU members have still not recognised Kosovo’s independence.
“EULEX was backed by countries which recognised Kosovo and those which did not,” he said as quoted.
The UN has administered Kosovo since 1999. Although it declared independence on February 17, Kosovo is still patrolled by NATO peacekeepers. The United States and most of its Western Allies including Great Britain have recognised independent Kosovo, something staunchly opposed by Serbia and its ally Russia. Â
Earlier, Tadic warned Serbia would only agree to the deployment of the EULEX if it receives an approval from the UN Security Council, if the current UN mission preserves its neutral position about Kosovoâ€™s status and if a plan tailored by former UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari that served as the blueprint for Kosovoâ€™s independence is abolished.