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Ivo Sanader (file photo) 4 October 2005 -- Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has hailed the formal start of Croatia's negotiations to join the European Union as a "great day" for the country and promised to help Croatia's Balkan neighbors in their efforts to move closer to the EU.

Croatia's membership talks were launched early today in Luxembourg after chief United Nations war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte yesterday gave assurances to the EU that Croatian authorities are now fully cooperating with the tribunal.

EU officials have however warned that Croatia's progress in membership negotiations will depend on the country's continued cooperation with the war crimes tribunal, including efforts to catch fugitive Ante Gotovina, a former general wanted for war crimes against ethnic Serbs in the Balkan conflict of the first half of the 1990s.

Sanader, welcoming the start of negotiations, told reporters that Croatia also wanted to help neighboring Balkan countries in their efforts to join the EU.

"We want to assist and to help our region and our neighbors to achieve their goals, and I'm sure the sooner Croatia becomes a full member of the EU, the sooner Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and all others (will become members)," Sanader said.

Yesterday, the EU also agreed to launch preparatory talks with Serbia and Montenegro on possible EU membership.

(AFP/AP/Reuters)
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