EU expected to suspend talks with Serbia

The European Union was expected Wednesday to suspend talks with Serbia on establishing closer ties, because Belgrade has failed to deliver fugitive Gen. Ratko Mladic to the U.N. war crimes tribunal. Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn consulted with Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the tribunal in The Hague , Netherlands , on Wednesday regarding Serbia 's cooperation with the court.

An expected announcement from Rehn was delayed, however. EU officials gave no explanation for the delay and said Rehn would make an announcement later Wednesday. "The facts are clear enough we don't see Ratko Mladic in The Hague , and to our understanding there is no full cooperation with The Hague tribunal," Rehn told journalists on Tuesday after meeting with Serbia 's Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus.

"That means that we don't seem to have any other options than calling off the negotiations with Serbia on the Stabilization and Association Agreement," which is considered a first step toward membership in the bloc, Rehn said. Mladic, the former commander of Serb forces during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, is believed to be hiding in Serbia under the protection of hardline military supporters.

The European Commission had given Belgrade an April 30 deadline to deliver Mladic as a precondition for resuming the talks with the EU on May 11. There is a chance the talks could still continue, if Del Ponte reports that Belgrade is doing all that it can to hunt him down.

But a breakdown in the talks could isolate Serbia further from the rest of Europe and delay its integration into the EU. It could also destabilize Kostunica's already shaky minority government, consists of a loose coalition of center-liberal parties that is heavily dependent for parliamentary support on nationalist hard-liners who vehemently oppose Mladic's extradition.

Because of his government's precarious political position, Kostunica has reportedly been trying to persuade Mladic to give himself up voluntarily to the tribunal in The Hague . Labus said on Tuesday in Brussels that the outcome represented a serious defeat for liberal parties advocating closer cooperation with the EU, and predicted that it would have "serious repercussions" on the political situation in Serbia .

A move by the EU to discontinue talks with Belgrade could also complicate Serbia 's relations with the independence-seeking regions of Montenegro and Kosovo. Both of these have used the issue to argue that Belgrade is ruining their chances of one day joining the EU by failing to meet its membership standards. Montenegro , which has been joined with Serbia for the past three years in an uneasy, EU-sponsored "state union," is holding a referendum on independence on May 21. The ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo, a Serbian province which has been a de facto U.N. protectorate for the past six years, is also seeking independence in negotiations currently under way in Vienna , Austria .

Del Ponte on Tuesday expressed hope that the issue would be quickly resolved. "Tomorrow we will see if they have found and arrested him, and we will take a position," Del Ponte said in Milan , according to the ANSA and Apcom news agencies, reports the AP.

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