EU backs summit with ex-Yugoslav states

SANTA MARIA DA FEIRA, Jun 21, 2000 -- (Reuters) The European Union agreed on Tuesday to hold a summit with ex-Yugoslav states and warned Kosovo it must respect its Serb minority, according to an EU draft declaration.

The 15 EU members, ending their six-monthly summit at this conference center in northern Portugal, also encouraged opposition groups in Serbia to continue their struggle for a democratic Yugoslavia living in peace with its neighbors.

The draft, due to be adopted later on Tuesday, said all countries in the western Balkans were potential candidates for EU membership.

Brussels is already negotiating membership with Yugoslavia's neighbors Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria and the ex-Yugoslav republic Slovenia.

France, which takes over the EU's rotating presidency in July, last month proposed an EU-Balkans summit to promote democracy and stability in an around former Yugoslavia.

The draft said the summit "would allow the countries of the region to be reassured of Europe's solidarity with them and permit an examination of them of the means to accelerate the process of democratic and economic reform".

Ethnic Albanian leaders in Kosovo, where violence against the dwindling Serbian minority continues one year after NATO evicted Serbian forces, were firmly warned they must create a tolerant society where all communities can live in safety.

"Extremist violence will not be tolerated," it said.

The EU pledged to speed up aid distributed by the Balkan Stability Pact and increase trade with the region.

The draft mentioned neither the time nor the location for the summit, which officials have said could take place in Zagreb this autumn, and did not specify which countries would be invited.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama said on Monday that Western-leaning Montenegro, which is still part of the Yugoslav federation, and Serbian opposition groups would be invited to join republics that have broken off from Belgrade.

In the draft, the EU praised Croatia's democratic and economic reforms, expressed support for the territorial integrity of Macedonia and encouraged Albania and Bosnia to work harder on economic reforms.

"A democratic, cooperative Yugoslavia living in peace with its neighbors will be a welcome member of the European family of democratic nations," it said, adding that the EU hoped the opposition would stay united in its struggle for democracy.

Brussels is planning targeted sanctions against Belgrade, including the drawing up of a "white list" to encourage companies that do not help finance President Slobodan Milosevic, a U.N.-indicted war criminal.

The new European Commission trade rules state that Serbian firms wanting to do business with the EU must prove their "ability to withhold revenues from the targeted governments" - those of federal Yugoslavia and its main republic Serbia.

Firms that pass the test, or convince the Commission that they have, will be put on the list. Critics argue the list could turn the selected companies into potential targets for an official shutdown. The draft declaration did not mention the list.

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