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Official: Serbia Must Turn Over War Crimes Suspects to Gain EU Membership - 2004-05-11

The European External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten has told Serbia and Montenegro that handing over suspects to the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague is a precondition to its membership in the European Union.

Speaking after a meeting with Serbia and Montenegro's Deputy Foreign Minister Predrag Boskovic Chris Patten said that compliance with the U.N. war crimes court is a key condition for EU membership.

He said he had told Serbian officials they must choose between supporting those who are accused of war crimes or "walking on the path to joining the EU."

The president of Serbia and Montenegro said earlier he was working on the extradition of top war crimes suspects to a U.N. tribunal. President Svetozar Marovic told The Associated Press news agency that includes Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, who has been accused of involvement in Europe's worst massacre since World War II.

Also on The Hague's most wanted list of Serbs are four generals, Nebojsa Pavkovic, Vladimir Lazarevic, Sreten Lukic and Vlastimir Djordjevic, who led Serb troops in Kosovo during a 1998-1999 crackdown against independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.

The recently elected Prime Minister of Serbia, Vojislav Kostunica, has said extraditing Serb indictees to The Hague is not one of his priorities.

Mr. Patten made it clear, however, that whether Serbia and Montenegro joins the European family was now in the hands of the political leaders.

He also stressed earlier in Kosovo the need to overcome ethnic tensions after a decade of Balkan wars ahead of status talks on the future of the Serbian province.

Mr. Patten also urged the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo to extend friendship and tolerance to the Serbian minority.

At least 19 people were killed in March during the bloodiest ethnic clashes since Kosovo came under United Nations administration in 1999.