Serbian prime minister urges EU members to help his country maintain its borders
Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica on Monday urged European Union members to assist it in keeping Serbia and Montenegro united.
In a speech in the German capital, where he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Kostunica urged EU members to understand the difficulties faced by Serbia, which is trying to push through reforms aimed at helping it join with its European neighbors while at the same time trying to prevent Montenegro and Kosovo from breaking away.
"This is an appeal to all Europeans to see the danger posed to Serbia by these factors and to help us to solve these problems," Kostunica said.
He insisted that Serbia and Montenegro, a loose union under which the two share only defense and foreign ministries, allowed them both to be stronger on an international front. Montenegrins are to vote on May 21 whether to maintain the union or break off on their own.
Merkel and Kostunica did not speak to the press after their discussions and there was no comment from the chancellory on their talks.
Earlier this month, the EU suspended talks with Serbia on forging closer ties because of Belgrade's failure to deliver fugitive Gen. Ratko Mladic to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
While Kostunica said that it was understandable that the EU is demanding cooperation from Serbia regarding Mladic, he said that the threat to his nation's integrity was an equally important problem, particularly in Kosovo, the province of 2 million, which has been an international protectorate since 1999 NATO bombing forced Serbia to end a crackdown against the separatist rebels.
Kostunica charged that Serbs and other minorities had suffered discrimination at the hands of the ethnic Albanians over the past seven years and handing them independence would be tantamount to rewarding that behavior.
Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority insists on independence, while its Serb minority and Belgrade are seeking to keep Kosovo at least formally within Serbia's boundaries.
U.N.-mediated talks on Kosovo's future, which began in February, aim at finding a settlement by the end of the year.
The ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in the past have rejected any proposals that fall short of independence -- a stance that Kostunica called "unproductive."