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EU says Serb membership hinges on handing over war criminals, respecting Kosovo independence
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    BRUSSELS, Belgium — French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Friday that Serbia could only join the European Union if it lived up to international demands to hand over war crime suspects and respected the independence of Kosovo.
    Already tense relations between the EU and Serbia have been further strained over the breakaway province. The EU leaders debated how Belgrade could be offered a fast-track to membership, but left the issue unresolved.
    At a European Union summit, Sarkozy said the EU ‘‘must send a positive signal to Serbia,’’ but said Belgrade could only become a member ‘‘if it satisfies all conditions; if it respects the independence of Kosovo.’’
    Sarkozy also said the EU leaders agreed in principle to send an 1,800-strong policing and security mission to Kosovo to replace the current United Nations administrative mission.
    Only if Belgrade meets the usual entry conditions of good governance and respect for human rights ‘‘can the (accession) negotiations can be accelerated,’’ said Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, the summit chairman.
    There had been speculation the EU might offer Belgrade faster entry to cushion the blow of possibly losing Kosovo, a scenario that brought an angry response from the Serb government.
    ‘‘It’s out of the question,’’ Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said in Belgrade. ‘‘Nobody has offered this to us because it’s so completely ludicrous.’’
    The EU leaders refrained from backing any unilateral declaration of Kosovo independence as long as there remained hope for a negotiated settlement.
    ‘‘The answer is no’’ on immediate unilateral recognition, Socrates said. ‘‘What we do now is undertake negotiations in the United Nations Security Council.’’
    The EU wants Serbia to hand over top war crimes fugitives, including former military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic. He was indicted on genocide-related charges by the U.N. Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague and is said to be in hiding in Serbia.
    Memories of deep divisions over the Balkan wars in the 1990s — which led to the union’s inability to prevent the fighting — still haunt EU capitals.
    The EU leaders’ debate on Kosovo comes before a key U.N. Security Council meeting Wednesday on the province’s status.
    Ethnic Albanians, who comprise 90 percent of Kosovo’s 2 million people, insist on independence. Serbia, backed by Russia, insists the province must remain Serbian territory.
    Ethnic Albanians expect swift recognition of independence from the EU and others. But Serbs have threatened to leave or to group in Kosovo’s north, where most of them live, and call for the territory to unite with Serbia.

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