Thursday, November 30, 2006

SERBIA: POLITICIANS EXALT AT NATO INVITATION

Belgrade, 29 Nov. (AKI) - Serbian politicians reacted with elation on Wednesday to the decision of NATO leaders at their summit in Riga to invite Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina to join Alliance’s Partnership for Peace Programme (PPP). "It's a great news for the citizens, army and state," said Serbian president Boris Tadic. Foreign minister Vuk Draskovic said it was "a clear message to the retrograde political forces in Serbia that there is no turning back to the past". He was referring to the political forces in the country, led by the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), which oppose Serbia’s Euro-Atlantic integration.


The NATO decision came as a surprise in Belgrade, because some western countries, headed by the United States, had opposed until the last moment Serbia’s joining PPP, unless it cooperated fully with the International Crimes Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). There are six individuals indicted by the Tribunal for crimes committed during the last decade Balkan wars who are still at large, and the Alliance insisted they should be arrested before Serbia could join the PPP. The list of wanted individuals is headed by the war time Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his general Ratko Mladic.

But NATO secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a press conference at the end of the Riga summit that the “the allies wanted to send a strong signal to Serbia that they consider it an important player in the region and want to have strong ties with it”. He said the invitation to Serbia was a “key political decision of the summit” which was arrived at after much wrangling, because it would strengthen the stability of the entire region. Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia were the only Balkan countries that were left out of PPP until now.

He added, however, that the Alliance expected from Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro to cooperate fully with the Hague Tribunal and will “continue to exert pressure on that issue”. The ICTY chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte said, on the other hand, she was “surprised and disappointed” by NATO decision, about which she wasn’t consulted.

Tadic said that no one should think that the problem of the cooperation with the Hague Tribunal has been solved by NATO decision. “Serbia must solve this problem and all indictees must land in the Tribunal,” he said.

Serbian political analyst Aleksandar Radic said the NATO invitation to Serbia will be “awarded by greater support of voters to democratic forces at forthcoming parliamentary elections”. The elections are set for January 21 and West’s worst fear has been that SRS and radical forces might come to power.

Serbian government spokesman Srdjan Djuric said that joining the Partnership for Peace might help Serbia to block majority ethnic Albanians’ drive in southern Kosovo province for independence. “This agreement represents a stronger basis for NATO member countries to respect sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia in harmony with the United Nations Charter,” he said.



(Vpr/Aki)

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