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Serbia Border Clash Creates ‘Serious Stumbling Block’ for EU Bid

Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Serbia faces a “serious stumbling block” in its bid to join the European Union after German and Austrian soldiers were wounded in a clash at Serbia’s border with Kosovo, German Deputy Foreign Minister Werner Hoyer said.

Last week’s incident was “extremely serious and the Serbian government must know when it doesn’t prevent things it can prevent, then it is a serious stumbling block,” Hoyer told reporters in Brussels yesterday. The European Council issued a statement saying Serbia must take steps “towards a visible and sustainable improvement of relations with Kosovo,” in order for talks to begin regarding its EU membership.

Serbian President Boris Tadic said he was “hopeful” that the EU’s decision this week on the country’s candidacy will be positive. Even if it isn’t, “Serbia must move on” as “that is not a definitive defeat, just one lost battle,” Blic news portal quoted Tadic as saying today.

About 25 NATO soldiers were wounded on Nov. 28 while attempting to remove roadblocks set up by Serbians living in northern Kosovo who reject the country’s 2008 independence from Serb rule, the Associated Press reported. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization called the violence “unacceptable,” and urged all sides “to exercise restraint.”

Kosovo Serbs began removing the road blocks yesterday, according to website B92. The action came sooner than expected after leaders of four Serbian municipalities vowed to remove the barricades only after parliament verifies an agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on integrated border management.

The accord reached under the EU auspices on the weekend, and crucial for Serbia’s bid to become an EU candidate, sees a “balanced presence” of Serbian and Kosovo police and customs officers on the border, while Eulex, the EU’s law-and-order mission, will hold executive powers at the crossings.

Serbia hopes to be declared a membership candidate at the Dec. 8-9 EU summit. Its neighbor, Montenegro, is likely to go further with its EU bid by being ruled eligible to start entry talks, Hoyer said.

“There is probably going to be more or less consensus on Montenegro where we intend to actively begin negotiations,” Hoyer told reporters.

To contact the reporters on this story: James G. Neuger in Brussels at jneuger@bloomberg.net; Gordana Filipovic in Belgrade at gfilipovic@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James G. Neuger at jneuger@bloomberg.net

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