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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Central European Leaders Urge Balkans Toward EU Integration

OHRID, Macedonia -- The leaders of 19 southeastern and Central European countries agreed Saturday that European Union integration will not be complete unless all western Balkan states are included.

"There is no viable political alternative to the integration into the European Union for the candidates and aspiring states," Macedonian president Branko Crvenkovski said after the two-day summit at the lake resort of Ohrid.

"However, the region is still not irreversibly on the road to Europe."

The Central European Initiative was formed in 1989 to strengthen ties between the region and the EU. Its 18 members are Albania, Austria, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine.

Ten are EU members, three are official EU candidates and five have not joined the union. Turkey attended as a guest.

Slovak president Ivan Gasparovic said Kosovo remains the "hottest topic" regarding peace in the western Balkans.

Kosovo was on the agenda, but the former Serbian province was not invited. Crvenkovski said an invitation would have required agreement of all the group's members, but Serbia does not recognize Kosovo's independence.

Bosnian president Haris Silajdzic, in a speech, criticized the European Union for postponing a pre-membership trade-and-aid agreement for Bosnia while signing one with Serbia.

"We were told the deal would be signed first in April, then in May, and now June is mentioned as a possible date. Our people are hurt and a bitter feeling lingers. Bosnia has fulfilled all the conditions. Serbia got the deal. The countries who have committed genocide got it, but not Bosnia, who was the victim," Silajdzic said.