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Slovenia Summit Reveals Cracks In The Balkans

Serbian President Boris Tadic
BRDO PRI KRANJU, Slovenia (Reuters) -- A Balkan summit in Slovenia meant to revive regional cooperation revealed deep divisions between Balkan states despite their common goal of joining the European Union, with Serbia refusing to attend.

The conference today, organized by Slovenia and Croatia, hoped to boost cooperation and rekindle enthusiasm for the EU.

Serbia, the biggest country in the region, refused to attend unless its former province of Kosovo came as a UN-run protectorate, which Pristina refused.

Serbia has vowed never to recognize Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.

The conference brought seven prime ministers from the region to a picturesque presidential palace at the foot of the Alps. Participants said the meeting was a step in the right direction, even without Serbia.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele told reporters upon arrival: "This conference will be a step in the right direction that the countries understand it is for the benefit of them to work together."

Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said the Balkan's youngest country's aim was "cooperation, not boycott."

"This is a very good opportunity for every leader of our countries to present their vision for peace, stability, regional cooperation, and EU integration," he said.

Almost 20 years after the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia, Slovenia is the only former Yugoslav state to join the EU in 2004.

Croatia hopes to follow in 2012, while others have a long way to go. All of them have to implement political and economic reforms, while Serbia also has to cooperate with the UN war crimes tribunal and show a more constructive stance on Kosovo.

"It is regrettable that [Serbian President] Mr Tadic is not here...This is a very important meeting on regional cooperation. It's substantial for all of us who aspire to an EU future and integration," Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha said.

Although the nationalism that fueled ethnic wars at the breakup of Yugoslavia has eased, many conflicts in the region remain as most states continue to have bilateral border and economic problems.