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Europe

Divided EU Seeks to Boost Pro-European Parties in Serbia

After Belgium and the Netherlands gave a conditional green light to a Serbia-EU pact, the 27-member bloc will try to agree on a gesture of support to pro-Western parties in Serbia before elections on May 11.

A women walks past a wall with graffiti in Serbian reading, EU? No thanks!

The graffiti in Belgrade reads: "EU? No thanks!"

Belgium and the Netherlands are ready to accept an EU accord with the Balkan country, but insist that its full implementation depends on full Serbian war crime tribunal cooperation, Belgium's foreign ministry said ahead of an EU foreign ministers' meeting on Tuesday, April 28.

The two countries would agree to a proposed Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), but Serbia "should not benefit from the advantages of this accord without full cooperation with the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)," Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Francois Delhaye told the AFP news agency.

Carrot or stick?

Ratko Mladic

The EU wants Serbia to hand over alleged war criminal Mladic

Most EU members have been in favor of signing the SAA, but the Belgian and Dutch governments believe that Belgrade should first help bring former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic to the United Nations court.

Mladic, along with Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, is accused of genocide for the massacre of up to 8,000 Bosniaks in Srebrenica in 1995 after Dutch peacekeepers guarding the area were forced to abandon the enclave.

The Dutch stance on Serbia and the ICTY is likely influenced by the fact that Wim Kok's government resigned in 2002 after a report on the Srebrenica massacre blamed politicians for sending the Dutch UN troops on an impossible mission.

Dutch analysts say the country's society remains traumatized by the event.

The Kosovo question

The EU, however, is concerned about the possible outcome of the snap parliamentary elections in Serbia, in which pro-European President Boris Tadic's Democratic Party will face a tough challenge from extreme nationalist Radical Party and Tadic's former coalition partner, the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS).

The Serbian coalition government collapsed in March after the then southern Serbian province Kosovo unilaterally declared independence, which was recognized by most -- although not all -- EU member states, and nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica (DSS) broke ranks with pro-Western Tadic over ties with the EU.

Even if Belgium and the Netherlands give a go-ahead to a provisional signing of the SAA on Tuesday, analysts are concerned that boosting pro-Western Serbs so close to the elections may in fact backfire.

Kosovars demonstrate independence

The Serbian government collapsed in March after Kosovo declared independence

"Public anger over Western support for Kosovo's independence is such that any attempt by the EU or US to support pro-Western parties prior to the elections risks strengthening the nationalist vote," the International Crisis Group's senior adviser James Lyon said in a statement.

In a report entitled "Will the Real Serbia Please Stand Up?" the think tank predicted Kosovo's secession from Serbia would have an important impact on the upcoming elections.

"Any attempt before the May 11 elections to pressure or induce Belgrade into more cooperation risks strengthening the nationalist vote," it said.

Mounting tensions

Meanwhile, three people were injured in a blast overnight in northern Kosovo, populated mostly by the Serb minority, Kosovo police said on Sunday.

"A blast occurred around 2:15 a.m. (0015 GMT) in the center of Leposavic," a Serb-populated town, police spokesman Besim Hoti told AFP.

Hoti said an "explosive device, apparently a hand grenade, was thrown from a moving vehicle," adding that an investigation was underway.

The blast took place just hours after the start of the celebration of Orthodox Easter. The three injured were taken to hospital in nearby Kosovska Mitrovica.

There are around 40,000 mostly Orthodox Christian Serbs living in the northern part of Kosovo, out of the 120,000 who remain here.

Tadic in Kosovo

The incident occurred as Tadic arrived in Kosovo to celebrate Easter at the Decani monastery, located some 90 kilometers (55 miles) west of the capital Pristina.

The 14th century monastery is one of the most revered in the Serbian Orthodox Church and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2004.

Tadic's visit to Kosovo -- his first since the province declared independence -- was approved by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) but was not positively viewed by the Kosovo government.

"Visits to Kosovo that are designed for political propaganda, for creating conflict and encouraging hatred are unacceptable to us," Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu said.

Earlier this month, Serbian authorities confirmed their intention to hold the vote on May 11 in 23 Kosovo municipalities with a mainly Serb population in Albanian-majority Kosovo.

Joachim Ruecker, the head of the UN mission in Kosovo has ruled, however, that holding the local polls would breach Security Council Resolution 1244 which governs the UN presence in Kosovo.

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