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EU Officials Urge South European Leaders to Boost Reforms

A top European Union official has referred to the Balkans as Europe's "missing limb," and has urged countries in that region to step up reforms to earn membership in the 27-nation bloc.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso Friday said southeastern Europe is at a crossroads and must choose between a prosperous future in Europe or a return to isolation and possible unrest.

He made his comments at a summit of leaders of 11 southern European countries in Croatia's capital, Zagreb.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns also attended the South Eastern Europe Cooperation Summit, which ended earlier Friday.

Barroso again expressed firm support for the United Nations-mediated plan on the future status of Serbia's breakaway Kosovo province. Belgrade adamantly rejects the plan.

Croatia's Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said Burns assured him of strong U.S. support for Croatian NATO entry. He said the U.S. official assured him that Croatia will receive a formal invitation to join the alliance at NATO's next summit in Bucharest in 2008.

On Thursday, representatives of 11 regional countries (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and Turkey) adopted a resolution creating the Regional Cooperation Council to replace the Stability Pact for South East Europe.

The pact was established eight years ago to help rebuild and stabilize the region that was torn by the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.