Merkel to talk Kosovo with Belgrade
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Belgrade Tuesday where she is expected to push Serbian leaders to resolve a simmering row with Kosovo after last month's violent scenes in the Serb-majority north.
Merkel was in Zagreb Monday as part of a two-days Balkans tour aimed at reassuring the region that the financial crisis in the European Union will not hurt their EU membership prospects.
She will meet Serbian President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic and the Vice Prime Minister for European Integration Bozidar Djelic.
In Croatia, which is due to become the EU's next member in summer 2013, Merkel outlined what her message for Serbia would be.
"My story in Belgrade will be this: look at Croatia, they succeeded, we want you to have peace, to improve, to develop socially and economically... to join us at the table, but you need to do something in return," she explained.
"One of the preconditions for Serbia (for joining the EU) is Kosovo, that relations between those states get normalised," she said.
Merkel's visit comes a few days ahead of the resumption of EU-mediated talks between Belgrade and Pristina in Brussels on September 2 and almost a month after violent scenes near Kosovo's border with Serbia, a region of predominantly ethnic Serbs.
The crisis flared in late July when Pristina forcibly replaced ethnic Serb border guards attached to the Kosovo police with ethnic Albanian officers at two border crossings to enforce a trade ban with Serbia.
The residents in Serb-majority northern Kosovo reacted angrily and an ethnic Albanian police officer was killed and four injured in ensuing clashes.
Belgrade refused to recognise Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 and European Union-mediated talks aimed at easing day-to-day headaches between the sides are due to resume next week.
On Monday Djelic said Belgrade would tell Merkel that it will do its utmost to let the dialogue succeed but would also warn against blackmail from Pristina.
"It would be harmful for Belgrade but also Pristina and Europe if at this delicate moment (when Serbia hopes to get the EU candidacy status) the dialogue is abused by Pristina making irrational demands to blackmail Serbia," he warned.
Djelic said he would also insist that it is important that Serbia not only gets candidacy status this year but also gets a date for the start of accession talks.
"We need the date of start of the talks to give strategic direction to the country and to show investors ... that the situation has been stabilized," he said.
According to Belgrade's leading Politika daily Merkel will stress the need for normalisation but will not push Belgrade for a recognition of Kosovo's independence. She is also expected to support Serbia's candidacy status but not giving a date for the start of accession talks.
Analysts here warned that it was essential for Serbia to secure the support of Berlin for its EU membership bid.
"For Serbia its important to get the support of the most powerful country in the European Union at the moment when that country is going through a grave crisis and the German electorate themselves are not very enthousiastic about e new enlargement of the union," Ognjen Pribicevic, a former Serbian ambassador to Berlin, said in an interview with Danas daily.
© 2011 AFP