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Last Updated: Friday, 14 December 2007, 19:27 GMT
EU offers Serbia deal on Kosovo
Serb football supporters protest against Kosovo independence
Serbia said it would never accept anything in exchange for Kosovo
EU leaders have offered to accelerate Serbia's membership in the bloc, but only after Belgrade hands over war crime fugitives still at large.

The move is seen as a way of keeping the Balkans stable, with Kosovo set to declare independence from Serbia.

The leaders also agreed in principle to send a 1,800 security force to Kosovo.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the breakaway region's independence was "inevitable" but the leaders refrained from backing a unilateral declaration.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said the recognition of Kosovo's independence would be "the most dangerous precedent after World War II".

Mr Kostunica also said the EU plan to send its mission to Kosovo would create "a puppet state" on Serbian soil.

'Clearest signal'

At a one-day summit in Brussels, the EU leaders stated that the current situation in Kosovo was unsustainable.

They said that they had agreed "in principle" to send its mission of 1,800 police and judicial officials to the province.

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said it was the clearest signal the EU could possibly send that it intends to take the lead role in the future status of the province.

This was a sentiment echoed by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown who said: "Europe wants to manage the next stage in Kosovo in a pro-active and in a united way."

The BBC's Oana Lungescu in Brussels says Europe is also sending a political message of encouragement to Serbia, ahead of a presidential election next month where the pro-Western incumbent will face an ultra-nationalist candidate.

Mr Socrates also said the EU was confident that Serbia's progress towards EU candidate status could be accelerated, but it hinged on Belgrade's full co-operation in handing over war crimes fugitives.

But the Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic rejected any linkage.

Serbia, he said, would work on speeding up European integration but would never accept anything in exchange for Kosovo.

A majority of Serbs see Kosovo as an historic part of their country and the issue will play a prominent part in the run-up to the election.

Serbian President Boris Tadic has said he is not prepared to distance himself from the EU if it pushed for Kosovo's independence, even though he opposes it.

Some EU member states are against independence for Kosovo.

Cyprus is the most strongly opposed, but Greece, Slovakia, Spain and Romania have all expressed concern about the possible repercussions for separatist movements elsewhere in Europe.

Following the summit, Romania's President Traian Basescu said: "Based on the principle of territorial integrity and inviolability, we cannot recognise Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence."

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