EU President Favors Signing Pre-Entry Deal With Serbia

APSerbian Orthodox believers preparing to break Christmas bread in Belgrade.
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia -- Slovenia, which currently heads the EU's rotating presidency, favors a quick signing of an EU pre-entry deal with Serbia, possibly in the next few weeks, its foreign minister said Tuesday.

But the EU commissioner in charge of the bloc's expansion, Olli Rehn, was cautious, saying that the signing of a deal -- called a Stabilization and Association Agreement -- depends on whether Serbia would fully cooperate with the UN war crimes court.

Rehn said he "shared the goal of signing the SAA as soon as possible. But that really is in the hands of Serbia."

Serbia initialed the agreement, but its signing has been stalled by its failure to arrest and extradite top war crimes suspects, including the Bosnian Serb wartime commander Ratko Mladic, accused of genocide.

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel told reporters that he was "one of those who believe" that a pre-entry deal with Serbia -- the first step toward opening talks on full membership in the 27-nation bloc -- "should be signed as soon as possible, possibly by the end of this month."

Rupel acknowledged, however, that "some of our colleagues [within the EU] have to be persuaded that this is a good idea" as they insist that Mladic and other suspects be handed over first.

Serbia, meanwhile, has said the EU should abandon its plans to send a peacekeeping mission to Kosovo, Serbia's breakaway province, as a condition for Belgrade signing a deal.

n The Serbian Orthodox Church used its Christmas message Monday to denounce what it called world "power mongers" seeking to take Kosovo away from Serbia.

The church, whose ancient seat was in Kosovo, said world powers were "shamelessly violating all norms of God's and human justice" by backing independence for the separatist province.