European Union foreign ministers agreed on Monday at a meeting in Luxembourg to start implementing an accord with Serbia known as the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), a prerequisite of any further assessment of a country's prospects for membership.
"Overall cooperation is going OK," the tribunal's chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz told reporters after meeting ministers.
But he reiterated that the capture of Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic, who has been indicted for genocide in the 1995 massacre in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, where Dutch troops were stationed, was vital to his investigations.
That, plus an assessment by Brammertz that an arrest of Mladic was not imminent, persuaded EU governments to wait before launching an assessment of Serbia's application to join the bloc on Monday.
"(There was) no positive news about the arrest," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. "Serbia has not completed its task yet."
Serbia formally applied to join the EU in December, but EU governments have to clear a review of its bid. Even once it starts membership talks, Serbia faces years of preparations that will include wide-ranging democratic and economic reforms.
War crime fugitives
Belgrade's path to the EU was blocked until last December by poor cooperation with the court prosecuting those responsible for the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Signs of improvement last year led to a thaw in EU relations with Serbia and EU governments lifted visa requirements for Serbians and unblocked a trade agreement in December.
The SAA agreement, once ratified by parliaments of EU members states, will give Serbia additional market access and EU aid linked to reforms.
Belgrade will also be able to build a track record of applying EU rules to bolster its bid for candidate status.
"Serbia is ready to take the next step," Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb told reporters before the meeting.
The accord had been initially signed in 2008 but frozen due to veto by the Dutch, who, diplomats said, lifted their objections on Monday.
The shift follows a Dutch general election last week.
In a report submitted to the U.N. Security Council this month, Brammertz wrote that Serbia had shown continuous efforts to cooperate.
He said Serbia's cooperation in giving the tribunal access to documents, archives and witnesses had been timely and adequate but it should take a more rigorous approach to apprehending fugitives.
ReutersLast Mod: 14 Haziran 2010, 20:15