Serbia opens talks on EU membership

Serbia-Montenegro formally opened talks on Monday on closer ties with the European Union - an initial step toward eventual membership.EU enlargement commission official Reinhard Priebe and senior Serbian and Montenegrin officials proclaimed at a meeting in Belgrade the start of the talks for a "stabilization and association agreement."

Serbian deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus described the initial talks as "tough, but a good beginning." He added that the negotiations would continue in December.

EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg approved a mandate for the negotiations on Oct.3, after deciding Serbia-Montenegro had made enough progress in reforms in its efforts to join the 25-member bloc to start pre-membership agreement talks, the AP reports.

But the EU has also warned Belgrade that those talks could be halted if top U.N. war crimes fugitives, particularly wartime Bosnian Serb army commander Gen. Ratko Mladic, are not arrested by December and handed over to the tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

Belgrade hopes to successfully conclude the agreement within a year and has set its sights for EU entry in 2012. A.M.

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