Merkel to Visit 3 Balkan Countries Next Week

Posted August 17th, 2011 at 6:35 pm (UTC-5)
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to visit Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro next week to discuss regional issues and the Balkan countries' ties with the European Union.

Ms. Merkel is due in Croatia's capital, Zagreb, on Monday. A German government spokesman said she will meet with Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor and President Ivo Josipovic. Croatia recently concluded negotiations for EU membership and is expected to join the bloc in 2013. The country this year marks its 20th anniversary of independence.

The German delegation is scheduled to proceed to Belgrade later in the day. The German chancellor will meet Tuesday with Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, President Boris Tadic and government ministers to discuss Serbia's bid to start negotiations for EU membership.

Montenegro's capital, Podgorica, is the last stop on Ms. Merkel's Balkan tour.

She will be travelling with a 60-member delegation made up mostly of businessmen.

But talks with Serbian officials are likely to include the situation in northern Kosovo, where ethnic tensions between Serbs and Albanian residents do not show signs of subsiding.

Serbia has fulfilled some of the key conditions to open membership talks with the EU by delivering three most-wanted fugitive war crimes suspects to the international war crimes tribunal in the Netherlands. Since 2008, Belgrade has captured and delivered to The Hague Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic, his military commander, Ratko Mladic, and most recently, Croatian Serb rebel leader Goran Hadzic.

But the European Union also demands that Belgrade normalize its relationship with Kosovo. Serbian leaders refuse to recognize Pristina's 2008 declaration of independence from Belgrade. Ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo also refuse to do so.

Germany was one of the first European Union countries to recognize Kosovo. Berlin has also called on EU members Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania and others that have not yet recognized Kosovo's independence to do so.