- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2006

BRUSSELS — Membership in NATO and the European Union is open to all Balkan states, provided they carry out necessary reforms and help bring their war criminals to justice, a senior U.S. official said yesterday.

The comments came after NATO decided at a summit last week to allow the start of talks with Serbia and Bosnia without the capture of indicted war-crimes suspects thought to be at large in those nations.

So far, there has been no sign that the European Union is willing to follow suit, with the bloc’s executive commission standing by a decision in May to freeze preliminary entry talks with Belgrade because of its failure to capture Bosnian Serbian wartime commander Gen. Ratko Mladic, who has been indicted for genocide.

EU talks with Bosnia on a so-called Stabilization and Association Agreement are stalled because of a failure to implement an important police reform.

“The history of the last 15 years has shown that countries that do their part do achieve NATO membership and European Union membership, and that path is available to all the countries of the Balkans,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried said at a briefing in Brussels.

He said he did not speak on behalf of the European Union.

Mr. Fried declined to say whether NATO had given Serbia and Bosnia a deadline for capturing Mladic or Bosnian Serbian wartime leader Radovan Karadzic.

“There is no reason that these indicted war criminals should be at large. Serbia needs to find courage to put behind its past and face a European future,” he said.

NATO has said it will closely monitor Serbian and Bosnian efforts to catch the suspects.

Karadzic and Mladic were indicted twice for genocide — for the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo and the July 1995 massacre of about 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica.

Mladic is thought to be in Serbia, and a Bosnian newspaper quoted U.N. war-crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte last week as saying Karadzic was in the border zone between the Bosnian Serb Republic and Serbia.

A number of Western diplomats have raised concerns about the risk of popular resentment in Serbia and Bosnia if they are left behind as other countries in the region progress toward NATO and EU membership.

Mr. Fried said the world would carefully study Serbia’s reaction to a decision, due early next year, on the final status of the breakaway province of Kosovo, administered by the United Nations since NATO bombs expelled Serbian troops there in 1999.

“We cannot go back to the past. … We cannot stay with Kosovo as a ward of the United Nations forever, we must go forward,” he said.

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