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Published: Wednesday, 11/8/2006

Same old Serbia

RECENT developments in Serbia, the Serbian part of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo continue to stand as barriers to Serbia's joining the European Union and reaping for its people the economic benefits of that partnership.

Two votes last month highlighted the problem. The first, general elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina Oct. 1, including the election of the Serb, Muslim, and Croat presidents who together make up the country's presidency, showed continued loyalty on the part of the three groups to nationalist, separatist representatives.

The Serb president, Nebojsa Radmanovic, and his party oppose the abolition of the political divisions incorporated in the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is generally considered that the EU would be reluctant to move toward membership for Bosnia-Herzegovina with the current divisions intact.

The second vote was an Oct. 29 referendum on Serbia's new constitution, which includes an assertion that Kosovo is an "integral part of Serbia." The referendum was approved by 96 percent of the voters.

The problem is that the United Nations, which has governed Kosovo since 1999, wants to unload it to the EU by the end of the year. The United States currently has 1,000 troops in Kosovo.

A solution would involve granting Kosovo independence, or some form of self-government, perhaps with continued international oversight. The new arrangement would be dominated by the 90 percent of the people who are Albanian, but the rights of the Serbs, who account for less than 10 percent, will need to be guaranteed.

Serbian resistance to change in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, in addition to its refusal to turn over two prominent former Bosnian Serb leaders to international authorities for trial, continues to be a barrier to Serbia's progress toward adherence to the EU as well.

Serbia can be respected for its independence, but its approach to the problems of the region does not seem to be in its people's best interests.

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