Stoyanov says Kosovo hampers Bulgaria's EU drive

BERLIN, Apr 19, 2000 -- (Reuters) Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov, visiting Germany to muster political backing and private investment, said on Tuesday that Kosovo's problems were hampering efforts to prepare Bulgaria for EU membership.

"Kosovo's illness is threatening to become chronic and will take up a lot of energy that we need diverted to the integration process started 10 years ago", he told reporters.

Bulgaria's efforts to strengthen ties with the European Union had been hit by its separation from the West by the war-torn former Yugoslavia during the past decade, he said, speaking at a reception given by the German Council on Foreign Relations.

Stoyanov said he hoped to have begun talks by the end of the year on 17 of the 31 areas designated by the European Union as a condition for entry to the 15-nation bloc.

Bulgaria, which wants to complete EU membership talks by 2006, is among 12 East European and Mediterranean countries in membership talks with the EU.

Stoyanov stressed the psychological importance of the European Union's offer to begin membership talks, a decision analysts saw as a reward for Bulgaria's backing of NATO's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia last year.

He said the promise of EU membership would also lead to closer cooperation with Western governments, which he said was critical to future Balkan stability.

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