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EU set for tough discussion on Serbia strategy

EU foreign ministers are gearing up for a tough discussion on Monday (17 July) on the possible re-start of association talks with Serbia without war crimes suspect general Ratko Mladic being delivered to the UN's Hague tribunal.

Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica is due to present his government's action plan on the Mladic arrest to EU foreign ministers as well as the European Commission in Brussels on Monday.

Mr Kostunica is due to meet the foreign ministers of the current and next EU presidencies Finland and Germany, the EU's enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn and the EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

"We see a great willingness to show a step forward towards Serbia as most member states now realize the danger of its situation and possible rise of extreme powers. The possibility of resuming the talks if the action plan is good - just like in the case of Croatia - is also on the table," one diplomat told the EUobserver.

"But some countries stick to their tough position on Mladic and would only let the talks resume if the Hague sends a positive signal," he added. The EU broke off its talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Belgrade in May as the ex-Yugoslav country failed to deliver the indictee to the tribunal by an end of April deadline. Diplomats from the Finnish EU presidency have suggested a "convincing and specific" strategy for catching the general might be enough to restart negotiations in September, even without his arrest, according to Financial Times.

A spokeswoman for EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said last week that it is primarily "the full cooperation with ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal on Yugoslavia]" which is crucial for Serbia to get back on track with negotiations on closer ties with Europe, adding the Hague's positive signal was needed to do the trick.

But it is unclear what 'full cooperation' exactly means. Last October, the EU started membership talks with Croatia despite the fact that war crimes suspect Ante Gotovina was still at large at the time.

But Anton Nikiforov, a spokesman for chief ICTY prosecutor Carla del Ponte told reporters on Thursday (13 July) he was not aware of a change in the EU strategy, while arguing the action plan itself would not be enough.

"The prosecution is interested only in results. We make assessments on the basis of results and not promises or plans," he said.

Will is lacking in Belgrade Ms del Ponte argues Mr Kostunica keeps trying to achieve a voluntary surrender of general Mladic rather than arresting him.

"In April I was convinced Kostunica would hand over Mladic because he shook my hand really hard. But, unfortunately, he abused my trust in him," she said to a Sarajevo daily last week, after her visit to Srebrenica to commemorate the eleventh anniversary of the massacre committed there during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia.

General Mladic, as well as the Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, were indicted by the Hague in 1995 for genocide and other war crimes committed in Bosnia, including the killing of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.

The UN court said it had not recently received any proof of more effective action on the part of Serbia, while commissioner Rehn was reportedly disappointed by a first glimpse of Belgrade's action plan. Referring to Mladic, Mrs del Ponte said he is "within the reach of Belgrade's hand and if he wanted to, Kostunica could hand him over, but he does not want to," according to AP agency.

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