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Serbia Must Meet Goals For Visa-Free Travel To EU

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn (left) and Serbian President Boris Tadic meet in Belgrade
BELGRADE (Reuters) -- Serbia must improve border controls and boost its fight against corruption and organized crime before the European Union grants its citizens the right to visa-free travel, a senior EU official said on July 22.

"Once Serbia fulfils outstanding conditions, visa-free travels will become a reality...hopefully in January," Olli Rehn, the EU enlargement commissioner, said after meeting Serbian President Boris Tadic.

Earlier this month the European Commission announced it would propose lifting the visa requirement as of January 1, 2010 for citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, all seeking to join the bloc.

Rehn's visit to Belgrade was part of a three-day tour that will include Macedonia and Montenegro.

Macedonia had met all the conditions but Montenegro and Serbia must improve controlling borders and fighting illegal trafficking and organized crime.

"Your new biometric passport will be the key for visa-free travel," said Rehn showing a specimen of the new Serbian passport with his photograph in it.

Strategic Goals

Tadic said Serbia remains committed to EU membership as its strategic goal and said that its parliament and the government were "working fast and diligently to adopt a set of laws" required for joining the bloc.

Citizens of the former Yugoslavia traveled visa-free to most of Western Europe until the country's violent break-up in the 1990s.

Of the six ex-Yugoslav republics, only Slovenia is an EU member. Croatia has already secured visa-free status.

Albania and Bosnia could follow Montenegro, Macedonia, and Serbia, by the middle of next year if they meet EU standards, the European Commission said last week.

The plan to offer visa-free status to Serbia before Bosnia has faced criticism from Sarajevo and some EU political groups who warned that the move would deepen ethnic divisions.

Tadic pledged that Serbian authorities "will do everything possible" to arrest war crime fugitives, former Bosnian Serb wartime commander Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic "if they are in Serbia," to speed up its EU bid.