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Visegrad Four Leaders Call On EU To Swiftly Add Balkan States

(Left to right:) Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban pose for photo at the start of a Visegrad summit in Prague on September 12.

PRAGUE -- During a Balkan-Central European summit overshadowed by the Czech president's call for his country to withdraw its recognition of Kosovo, the prime ministers of the Visegrad Four countries have called for the swift expansion of the European Union to include states in the western Balkans.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis told the September 12 summit in Prague that EU enlargement is the best way forward for the region.

"Security in the Western Balkans means security for Europe," Babis told the gathering of leaders from the Western Balkans and the Visegrad Four, which consists of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland.

Babis said he hopes European Union accession negotiations for Albania and North Macedonia, both of which are on the agenda for future EU expansion, will start before the end of 2019.

Kosovo did not participate in the meeting, which came a day after Czech President Milos Zeman said he would like his country to withdraw its recognition of the former Serbian province as a sovereign state.

"A war crimes-led state should not be located in the community of democratic countries," Zeman said during a visit to Belgrade on September 11.

Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj resigned in July ahead of his questioning by a Hague-based court investigating alleged war crimes by fighters from the Kosovo Liberation Army two decades ago. He has since acted in a caretaker role.

Haradinaj, a former commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army, has proclaimed he is innocent. But he said felt he could not go to The Hague for questioning while he was serving as the head of Kosovo's government.

A spokeswoman for Kosovo's government told RFE/RL that Haradinaj's commitments ahead of Kosovo's snap parliamentary elections in October was the reason for his absence from the Prague summit.

The meeting was aimed at improving cooperation between the Visegrad Four and Balkan states.

With reporting by AP and dpa