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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 October, 2003, 00:20 GMT
Schroeder on key Balkans visit
By Ray Furlong
BBC correspondent in Berlin

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder leaves on Wednesday for a groundbreaking two-day tour of the Balkans.

It will be the first visit by a German chancellor to Zagreb and Belgrade since the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

Germany played a prominent role in supporting Croatian independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, and also supported Nato military action against Yugoslavia during the Kosovo crisis in 1999.

Gerhard Schroeder
Germany backed Nato's campaign against the former Yugoslavia
But the main focus of the trip, which also takes in Slovakia, will be economic.

Chancellor Schroeder visits Slovakia first and he will provide moral support to a government pushing through unpopular economic reforms ahead of EU membership next year - and also visit a Volkswagen factory.

This will set the tone for the more important part of the journey: visits to Belgrade and Zagreb.

Latent animosity

His three-way talks with the presidents of Serbia and Montenegro will focus very much on economic co-operation, as both these countries need all the help they can get right now.

But there is also a symbolic element: overcoming the animosity felt towards Germany for supporting Croatian and Bosnian independence in the early 1990s, and backing Nato military action during the Kosovo crisis.

On Thursday, in Croatia, Mr Schroeder will praise the progress made since a pro-European government took over from nationalists four years ago but he will also warn that more needs to be done before negotiations on EU membership can begin.

In both Belgrade and Zagreb, he will call for more co-operation in sending war crimes suspects to the international tribunal in The Hague.

Profile: Gerhard Schroeder
23 Sep 02  |  Europe

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