Merkel sets Kosovo conditions for Serbian EU candidacy

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday issued a set of conditions linked to Kosovo that Belgrade must meet if it wants to be accepted as an EU candidate this year.

"I believe that we are now in a crucial phase, the issue of Serbia's EU candidacy status is linked... with relations towards neighbouring countries," she said in a joint press conference with Serbian President Boris Tadic.

Merkel pushed for results in EU-mediated talks between Pristina and Belgrade but also stressed that the EU rule of law mission (EULEX) should work freely all over Kosovo and insisted Serbia abandon its parallel administrative structures still operating in the Kosovo's north, such as post offices, schools and municipal administrations.

"If Serbia wants to achieve candidate status it should resume the dialogue and achieve results in that dialogue, enable EULEX to work in all regions of Kosovo, and abolish parallel structures and not create new ones," she outlined.

Merkel's visit comes almost a month after violence erupted in Kosovo's Serb-majority north.

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.

Residents in 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.

"We want to see results from the dialogue. The summer was not so great and it led to events that we believed were in the past," Merkel said, referring to the clashes.

Merkel's conditions will be a bitter pill to swallow for Serbia which had hoped that arresting the last remaining fugitives of the UN war crimes tribunal earlier this year, coupled with political reforms would be enough to get Belgrade at least accepted as an EU candidate.

Belgrade was even pushing for getting a date to start accession talks together with the candidacy status but that hope seems effectively squashed by the conditions as set out by Merkel.

"I will be clear. We are facing a very complex issue with Kosovo. Serbia has no illusion that it could bring a new conflict into the EU," Tadic said.

But he urged Berlin to have patience.

"We expect Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, to have an understanding in the future for the complexity of that issue in the western Balkans."

"Serbia is committed to finding a peaceful solution, we want to resume the dialogue and find a durable compromise ... at the same time Serbia wants to hold on to its principles and its integrity," he warned.

There has been a lot of grumbling in Belgrade that Pristina's unilateral actions to forcibly seize the border posts is in effect being rewarded by the EU's tough stance on Serbia.

"We expect the EU to pass a clear message to Pristina and to the Kosovo Albanian government. For us it's unacceptable to reward (Pristina) with the establishment of a new reality on the ground achieved by unilateral actions," he insisted.

Merkel agreed that "the next step is to stop unilateral action because we need dialogue".

"We believe that the dialogue needs to take place as it will diminish the danger of such unilateral actions," she said.

© 2011 AFP

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