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Balkans: Nine Leaders Stress Regional Cooperation In Belgrade

The leaders of nine Balkan states opened a summit in Belgrade today in a bid to deepen regional cooperation in advance of future integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. The fight against organized crime is also on the agenda.

Prague, 9 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The presidents of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia-Montenegro, as well as the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey and the head of the Romanian Senate are meeting in Belgrade today at the sixth summit of the Southeast European Cooperation Project.

Croatia is participating as an observer, while Moldova -- which would like to join the group -- is present as a "special guest."

This is reported to be Croatian President Stipe Mesic's first visit to Belgrade since September 1991, when he chaired the collective presidency of the former Yugoslavia as it was disintegrating.

Senior officials from the UN, EU, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, and the international community's high representative for Bosnia are also attending.

The discussions cover regional cooperation, trade liberalization, transportation, telecommunications, and the fight against organized crime. The participants are due to sign a document, the "Belgrade Declaration," drafted earlier this week in Belgrade by their foreign ministers as well as a document on the war in Iraq.

Serbia-Montenegro's foreign minister, Goran Svilanovic, said the Belgrade Declaration is intended to show that all the countries in the region have made giant steps in resolving their biggest problems in the areas of democratization and integration.

"Albania has begun negotiations with the European Union on an Association and Stabilization Agreement. Bulgaria and Romania have confirmed their date of entry into the EU. That's expected to be in 2007 and they are also invited to join NATO. Croatia has made a formal application for membership in the European Union and we have witnessed the opportunity for stabilization and progress in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia as in well as Turkey," Svilanovic said.

Svilanovic said Serbia-Montenegro -- until February known as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia -- has also made progress in the 2 1/2 years since the fall of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.

"I can say with satisfaction that our country has made progress, since in recent years we have concentrated on several very important issues -- the barriers to free trade in the region, the barriers to freedom of movement in the region, the inability of energy resources to be used in an organized manner by the countries of this region. We insisted on the need for cooperation of the interior ministries as well as in the fight against organized crime," Svilanovic said.

Greek Foreign Minister Georgios Papandreou said integration and closer cooperation are important for Southeastern Europe and that Greece will do its utmost at the EU summit in the Greek city of Thessaloniki in June to "help in every way to make this region part of Europe."

"It will be very important not only for the stability of the region but also for the prospects of all the peoples of the region," Papandreou said

A variety of bilateral negotiations are being held on the sidelines of the summit, including talks on the future of Cyprus between the prime ministers of Greece, Costas Simitis, and Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan told reporters before leaving Ankara yesterday that he would be meeting Simitis and Papandreou with what he called "goodwill." Erdogan described the Balkan cooperation process as "an example for the protection of stability and security in other regions."

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic, Svilanovic, and Albanian Foreign Minister Ilir Meta held talks yesterday, after which Zivkovic issued a statement reiterating the view of his late predecessor, Zoran Djindjic, "that it is necessary to begin a dialogue on Kosovo's status as soon as possible, because otherwise regional stability could be put at risk."

Zivkovic also said that "regional stability requires good relations between Serbia-Montenegro and Albania, and much better relations between Serbs and Albanians."

For his part, the Albanian foreign minister offered his country's services as an intermediary between Belgrade and Pristina in resolving the Kosovo issue. The international community has repeatedly stated that only the UN Security Council is empowered to determine Kosovo's status. Zivkovic told reporters after talks on 7 April with the head of the UN Mission in Kosovo, Michael Steiner, that Belgrade opposes any process that would lead to independence for Kosovo.

Bosnian Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic, speaking to reporters in Belgrade today said, "For the first time, the region is beginning to speak with one voice."