German minister to promote reforms, peace on Balkan trip

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German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle will tour the Balkans this week to promote a peaceful resolution of the Kosovo issue and reforms sought by the European Union, his spokesman said Monday.

The three-day trip will begin Wednesday in Croatia, continue in Serbia and Bosnia Hercegovina on Thursday and wrap up in Kosovo on Friday, Andreas Peschke told a regular government news conference.

Westerwelle will meet with political leaders, business executives and non-governmental organisations in each country and visit German troops stationed with the NATO-led KFOR mission in Kosovo.

"The foreign minister will underline the great importance of security and stability in the Western Balkans for Europe as a whole on the trip, in the context of the European perspective that the German government sees for the entire region," Peschke said, referring to bids to join the European Union.

"(These ambitions) should become reality, step-by-step, and in that context he will call for further reforms."

Westerwelle is to lay out Germany's views on the Western Balkans and the countries' possible future EU membership in a speech before Zagreb's Academy of Sciences.

In Belgrade, he will meet with young graduates to discuss Serbia's outlook and in Pristina, he will speak to parliament and stress Germany's backing for "Kosovo's democratic, independent development".

"We were one of the first countries to recognise Kosovo and one of the countries that has decisively contributed to a solution to the Kosovo issue and we are very interested in positive economic and social development in Kosovo," Peschke said.

"It is now time to focus on which practical steps forward can normalise and improve relations between Serbia and Kosovo."

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in February 2008 and it is recognised by 69 countries, including the United States and the majority of EU members including Germany.

The International Court of Justice issued a non-binding opinion last month that Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia did not violate international law.

Serbia subsequently sent a draft resolution to the United Nations calling for the start of talks between Belgrade and Pristina on "all open questions" between the two.

Peschke stressed Monday that Germany saw the questions as "resolved".

© 2010 AFP

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