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German Foreign Minister Visits Serbia

Germany's foreign minister is urging Serbia to give up claims to its former province of Kosovo, and instead focus on efforts to join the European Union.

Guido Westerwelle told Serbian officials in Belgrade Thursday that Kosovo's independence – already recognized by 69 nations – is a reality. He also said EU officials are willing to help broker direct talks between Belgrade and Pristina.

Last month, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence did not violate international law.

Serbia has since submitted a new resolution to the United Nations General Assembly condemning the Kosovo declaration. Westerwelle on Thursday criticized Belgrade for taking the dispute to the world body rather than the European Parliament.

Meanwhile, a leading international research group is calling on the Belgrade and Pristina governments to seize the moment with new talks aimed at reaching a compromise.

The International Crisis Group said in a statement Thursday that a real opportunity exists now for Serbia and ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo to resolve their differences, in the aftermath of the ICJ ruling.

The crisis group said there is no alternative to a comprehensive deal, if either or both countries want what it calls a "European institutional future."

The International Crisis Group said that at a minimum, Serbia should pledge to work with Kosovo to secure the rule of law in northern Kosovo, an area of high ethnic tensions heavily populated by ethnic Serbs. The group also called for both sides to establish "neighborly" relations by cooperating on technical issues to improve people's daily lives.

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