Serbia applies for EU membership
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Serbia's President Boris Tadic (photo) moved to end years of isolation on Tuesday as he submitted Serbia's application for membership of the European Union, despite war fugitives still being on the run.
REUTERS - Serbia formally applied for European Union membership on Tuesday in a major effort to turn its back on the war, poverty and international isolation of the 1990s.
President Boris Tadic submitted the application to Sweden, holder of the rotating EU presidency, a decade after the end of the Balkan wars that tore apart the former Yugoslavia and kept it outside mainstream Europe.
Serbia's failure to arrest Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb ex-general indicted for genocide by the UN war crimes tribunal, has been a major barrier to Belgrade's EU ambitions, and its bid is likely to make little further progress while he remains free.
Analysts said the membership application would have little impact on the Serbian financial market, which had already priced it in, and it could take Serbia years to become an EU member.
The application followed signs of a slight EU thaw towards the biggest ex-Yugoslav republic, the target of United Nations sanctions in the 1990s and NATO bombing in 1999 to halt its counter-insurgency war in breakaway Kosovo province.
Earlier this month, the EU unblocked an interim trade deal with Serbia and lifted the visa requirements for Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro, allowing their citizens to travel freely to the 27-nation bloc.
Jasmina Loncar, a spokeswoman for the Belgrade-based Kontiki Travel tour operator, said people were "scrambling for low-cost round trips" after the abolition of visas for EU countries.
Despite the unblocking of the trade accord, ratification of Serbia's Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the bloc is on hold, at the insistence of The Netherlands, until Mladic has been extradited to the Hague tribunal.
Tadic, the leading reformist in the country of 7.5 million, acknowledged the application was only a start.
"It is a completely different matter whether we will get the candidate status before we complete our cooperation with the Hague tribunal," he said in Belgrade on Monday.
Of the former Yugoslav republics, only the westernmost, Slovenia, joined the European Union in 2004. Croatia, which became a member of NATO this year, hopes to conclude its EU entry talks in 2010 and join the bloc in 2012.
Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro have already applied for membership but have yet to start talks.
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