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EU Set To Lift Visas For Three Balkan States

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- The European Union will allow visa-free travel inside the 27-country bloc for Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro from December 19, but keep restrictions on Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, EU ministers have agreed.

All five countries hope to join the EU, which has made visa liberalization an important part of its policy to increase cooperation with the Balkans.

Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro had to fulfill benchmarks for border controls, passport security, and fighting corruption and organized crime to get the visa restriction lifted.

Albania and Bosnia have yet to meet all the conditions and the European Commission, the EU's executive body, is likely to review their progress next year.

Opinion polls suggest there is little appetite in the EU for further enlargement in the wake of the global financial crisis and after the cost of allowing in 12 countries, mostly from Eastern and Central Europe, in 2004 and 2007.