retorn dŽambaixadors serbis a Estats que reconeixen Kosova

Serbian ambassadors to return to EU capitals

Belgrade - Serbia hopes to be an official EU candidate by the end of the year.

ELITSA VUCHEVA, euobserver, 09:29 CET

Serbia's government has decided to return the ambassadors that were withdrawn from EU states which recognised Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence in a move aiming to "normalise" relations with the 27-nation bloc.

"I consider the decision on the return of ambassadors to EU countries that have recognised Kosovo will reinforce our diplomatic position," Serbian environment minister Oliver Dulic is quoted as saying by AFP news agency on Thursday (24 July).

"I guess that the ambassadors will go back over the course of next week," he added, after a cabinet meeting backed the move earlier in the day.

At this stage, the measure does not affect non-EU states that have recognised Kosovo - such as the US.

When first announcing the plan on Sunday, the country's foreign minister Vuk Jeremic also said it was aimed at "normalising" relations with the EU.

The new Serbian government - in office for barely two weeks - has high hopes that the country can be granted the status of EU candidate by the end of 2008 and "at the latest in the first half of 2009."

The move also comes as the country's security forces arrested former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic on Monday, after he had been on the run for more than ten years, charged by the UN war crimes tribunal with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

His arrest was largely hailed as an important step of Serbia's co-operation with the tribunal and therefore - as "very important for Serbia's European aspirations."

Kosovo recognition not implied

However, Belgrade has made it clear that reinstating the ambassadors would in no way imply recognising Kosovo - which it still considers as part of Serbia.

"With this [reinstating Serbian ambassadors in EU capitals], we want to balance two priorities which we have put before us – one to continue with the fight for Kosovo and the other to intensify the process of European integration," Mr Dulic said.

Mr Jeremic made a similar statement in Brussels on Tuesday, stressing that the two issues are to be kept separate and that they are both top priorities for the new government.

When it comes to "protecting our sovereignty," Serbia will make "no compromise," he said.

The country also still opposes an incoming EU police and justice mission – EULEX.

"In Belgrade's eyes, this mission is only acceptable if it is the fruit of a deal backed by a UN Security Council resolution," Mr Jeremic is quoted as saying by AFP.