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Kosovo Violence Overshadows EU, NATO Expansion Talks - 2004-03-19

The eruption of violence in Kosovo is overshadowing a meeting of European leaders to discuss the expansion of the European Union and NATO.

With the expansion of NATO and the European Union planned over the next two months, this summit was expected to discuss a new agenda for a wider Europe.

But from the start, the discussions have been dominated by the violence in the troubled Serbian province of Kosovo, which in recent days has experienced its worst inter-ethnic fighting since the war there ended in 1999.

Former Balkans negotiator Carl Bildt chaired a panel at the summit that was supposed to discuss democracy. But most of the discussion was about the situation in Kosovo. Mr. Bildt said he was extremely concerned about the burning of mosques and churches in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia. The former Swedish prime minister said the conflict has the potential to dramatically escalate, because fighting has been spreading rapidly.

Host country Slovakia is one of the seven mainly former-Communist countries that will join NATO in the coming weeks. Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda urged the organization not to close its doors to Balkan countries after its coming expansion.

"Unfortunately, current tension in Kosovo reminds us that the work is not yet done, that the difficult issues still lie ahead of us," he said. "But this is not 1999. The leaders of the region have made incredible progress. I believe that at its forthcoming Istanbul summit, NATO should take concrete steps toward inviting Albania, Croatia and Macedonia to join. Equally important, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro should be asked to join the [NATO] Partnership for Peace."

Leaders of Balkan countries are particularly concerned about the situation in Serbia. Romania, another new NATO member, has troops in Kosovo, and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said his country is taking the situation very seriously.

"Romania herself is, and will remain, involved," said Adrian Nastase. "Romanian gendarmes and military police are patrolling the streets of Mitrovica [in Kosovo]. Any attack against K-FOR [NATO] troops and UNMIK [United Nations] personnel is unacceptable. Any perpetrators of such attacks must be brought to justice, as soon as possible."

Mr. Nastase and other Eastern European leaders said it would be a mistake for NATO and the EU not to continue to expand toward the Balkans. They see enlargement as the best instrument to promote human rights and prosperity in the region.

Leaders of some east European and former-Soviet states have expressed concern that new post-Communist divisions could emerge in Europe after the NATO and EU enlargements, with some countries joining the prosperous organizations, while others are left behind.