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22 October 2017
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EU, NATO must integrate all Balkan states and Ukraine, area countries say

The leaders of 19 Central and southeastern European countries agreed

The leaders of 19 Central and southeastern European countries agreed Saturday that European Union integration will not be complete unless all Western Balkan states are included, according to AP.

"There is no viable political alternative to the integration into the European Union for the candidates and aspiring states," Macedonian president Branko Crvenkovski said after the two-day summit at the lake resort of Ohrid. "However, the region is still not irreversibly on the road to Europe."

The Central European Initiative was formed in 1989 to strengthen ties between the region and the EU. Its 18 members are Albania, Austria, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine.

Ten are EU members, three are official EU candidates and five have not joined the union. Turkey attended as a guest.

Slovak president Ivan Gasparovic said Kosovo remains the "hottest topic" regarding peace in the Western Balkans.

Kosovo was on the agenda but the former Serbian province was not invited. Crvenkovski said an invitation would have required agreement of all the group`s members, but Serbia does not recognize Kosovo`s independence.

Bosnian president Haris Silajdzic, in a speech, criticized the European Union for postponing a pre-membership trade-and-aid agreement for Bosnia while signing one with Serbia.

"We were told the deal would be signed first in April, then in May, and now June is mentioned as a possible date. Our people are hurt and a bitter feeling lingers. Bosnia has fulfilled all the conditions. Serbia got the deal. The countries who have committed genocide got it, but not Bosnia, who was the victim," Silajdzic said.

The EU signed a pre-membership agreement with Serbia this week to boost pro-Western parties before May 11 elections there.

"Nobody can blackmail Serbia to recognize Kosovo just to get into the European union," Serbian president Boris Tadic told reporters in Ohrid.

AP, International Herald Tribune

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