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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 January 2008, 20:15 GMT
EU presidency wants Serbia deal
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel
Mr Rupel says signing a pre-entry deal is in Serbia's hands
Slovenia has raised the prospect of Serbia taking a step closer to joining the EU, possibly by the end of January.

Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country holds the EU presidency, says he believes Serbia should sign a pre-entry accord as soon as possible.

After a meeting with Mr Rupel, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said Belgrade first had to co-operate fully with the UN war crimes tribunal.

Bosnian Serb wartime commander Ratko Mladic is wanted on genocide charges.

He was indicted over the massacre of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in July 1995. Serbian officials have been accused of obstructing the hunt for him.

First step

Mr Rupel wants to speed up the process towards the full signing of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), which the EU and Serbia initialled in November 2007.

Serbia is co-operating fully with the Hague tribunal and therefore as far as we are concerned all conditions have been met
Vuk Jeremic
Serbian Foreign Minister

But the Dutch government has made it clear it will not agree to the signing until Gen Mladic has been arrested and extradited.

After talks with the enlargement commissioner in Slovenia, Mr Rupel told reporters that they would propose the establishment of a task force with the aim of pushing forward Serbia's accession to the EU.

He said this would require greater effort from Belgrade in arresting and extraditing Ratko Mladic.

Serbian support

The Serbian Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremic, said he hoped his government would be able to sign the pre-entry agreement on 28 January.

Speaking after talks in Brussels with the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, Mr Jeremic suggested that there were no obstacles to progress.

"Serbia is co-operating fully with the Hague tribunal and therefore as far as we are concerned all conditions have been met," he said.

However, Mr Jeremic's positive assessment of the possibility of progress is at odds with the view of Serbian Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica.

He has issued a strong warning to the EU not to support Kosovo if it declares independence after the Serbian presidential elections later this month.

If Brussels goes ahead with its plans for a police and justice mission to Kosovo, Mr Kostunica says that Serbia will halt the process towards joining the EU.

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