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Last Updated: Monday, 21 November 2005, 11:58 GMT
EU puts Bosnia on path to entry
By Oana Lungescu
BBC News, Brussels

Before and after images of the Bosnian war

The European Union has given the green light to talks that will prepare Bosnia for the long road to EU membership.

EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, agreed to start negotiating a stabilisation and association agreement on closer political and economic ties.

The move comes exactly 10 years after the end of the Bosnian war, the worst conflict in Europe since World War II.

It means that all the countries in the Balkans are now moving towards the EU at their own speed.

Bosnia-Hercegovina's journey towards the EU has now begun in earnest, the EU foreign ministers said in a statement.

But they made clear that the speed with which the country moves will depend on the pace of domestic reforms and full co-operation with the UN war crimes tribunal.

Peacekeepers

The EU called for decisive action to ensure that the two men who led the Bosnian Serbs during the war, Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, are finally brought to justice.

BALKAN PROGRESS
Slovenia: Joined EU in 2004
Croatia: Started entry talks, October 2005
Macedonia: May gain candidate status in December 2005
Albania: SAA talks well advanced
Serbia and Montenegro: Started SAA talks, October 2005
Bosnia: Agreement to start SAA talks, November 2005

This, the statement says, is essential to achieve lasting reconciliation and lift a fundamental obstacle to EU integration.

The EU maintains more than 6,000 peacekeeping troops in Bosnia, but foreign ministers decided to cut an existing police mission by half, to about 150, and focus its role on tackling corruption and organised crime.

It's part of the legacy that has held Bosnia back. Serbia and Montenegro began talks on a stabilisation and association agreement (SAA) last month, and Albania hopes to complete them soon.

Croatia is one stage further, having already begun EU membership talks, while Macedonia expects to be granted EU candidate status next month.

All the Balkan countries hope to follow in the footsteps of Slovenia, the former Yugoslav republic which joined the EU last year.

But for most of them, like Bosnia, it may take another decade.


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