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Serbian premier rejects EU offer to help smooth relations with independent

BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro-Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica on Friday rejected a European Union offer to help ease friction after Montenegro's decision to split from Serbia, and criticized the EU's handling of the vote.

Kostunica had openly backed the anti-independence bloc in Montenegro and has refused to explicitly recognize the smaller republic's independence after the May 21 referendum.

"I told (EU foreign policy chief Javier) Solana that Brussels' helps is absolutely not needed," Kostunica said. "We shall resolve the problems ourselves."

Solana met with Kostunica during a Friday visit to Belgrade to encourage Serbian leaders to establish good relations with Montenegro after the referendum.

"There will be many political and technical issues to resolve" as the two Balkan republics part ways, Solana said, cautioning that the separation must be "constructive" and smooth. "To do it in a manner of dialogue is better for everybody."

Solana promised there would be a place in Europe for both Serbia and Montenegro as two independent, sovereign states, and separately pressed Belgrade to cooperate with the U.N. war crimes tribunal based in The Hague, Netherlands.

Kostunica, meanwhile, criticized the EU's handling of the referendum, recounting reports of irregularities and complaining that Serbian citizens of Montenegrin nationality had been prevented from voting.

EU and international observers have said Montenegro's vote was free and fair.

Solana said his meeting with Kostunica was "frank, solid and at some moments a little bit sad," underlining that he understood the breakup with Montenegro was "painful" for many in Serbia.

"But it is our obligation to keep on looking to the future and whatever we can do to help your country move toward the EU we shall do," Solana said. "I will try to do as much as I can but the prime minister has very clearly said he doesn't need any help ... If I am not needed, I will not help."

Earlier Friday, Solana congratulated Serbian President Boris Tadic on his prompt recognition of Montenegro's secession.

Serbia-Montenegro was the last union among republics of the former Yugoslavia following the federation's collapse in a series of wars in the 1990s.

The two republics have been negotiating a pre-membership deal on economic and political ties with the European Union on parallel tracks since 2004. Each will now continue pursuing aspirations to join the bloc separately.

Montenegrin leaders have not set a target date for EU membership but claim that without Serbia, the smaller republic stands a better chance.

In May, the EU froze talks with Serbia after it failed to deliver top war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic to the U.N. tribunal.

The "difficult problem" of arresting and extraditing Mladic stands in the way of Serbia's path to Europe, Solana said. "The sooner this issue is resolved, the better for everybody."

Kostunica blasted the EU's suspension of the talks as a "poor decision," saying he could not understand Brussels' stand that Serbia's "fate hangs on one man who refuses to surrender to The Hague tribunal."

"Instead of a partnership relation, we saw pressure and conditioning," Kostunica said. "I cannot understand such a move."

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