Germany, Serbia hope for speedy deal on EU trade pact

The foreign ministers of Germany and Serbia said Thursday they hoped the Balkan nation would soon be able to sign a key aid and trade pact with the European Union.

Ideally, the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) should be signed on January 28, when EU foreign ministers are due to meet in Brussels, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Serbian counterpart Vuk Jeremic said.

Steinmeier said signing the agreement, regarded as the first formal step on the road to EU membership, depended on full cooperation by Belgrade with the UN war crimes tribunal based in The Hague.

He proposed that the new chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, Belgian Serge Brammertz, travel to Serbia before a decision is taken.

Jeremic said Belgrade was fully aware of the situation and would do everything in its power to see that war criminals, foremost among them ex-General Ratko Mladic, are handed over to the tribunal.

Mladic, who is charged with orchestrating the 1995 massacre of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims in the town of Srebrenica, is believed to be hiding in Serbia.

Steinmeier said Europe had a keen interest in seeing "that the democratic and European path taken by Serbia remains the path for the future of this country."

The talks failed to resolve differences over the breakaway Serb province of Kosovo, which has threatened to declare unilateral independence.

Steinmeier said the recent talks to resolve the status issue ended in failure, but Jeremic said they had achieved progress and called for more time to reach a negotiated settlement.

The EU and the United Nations want Kosovo to achieve a supervised form of statehood, but Serbia, backed by Russia, wants to grant only far-reaching autonomy to the mainly Albanian-populated territory. ( Dpa )

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