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Balkan leaders, EU to discuss security alarms

Balkan leaders, EU to discuss security alarms

Balkan leaders and top European Union officials meet on Friday to discuss ways to quell violence which has rocked the region and hit hopes for economic recovery.

In the run-up to the summit, growing support has emerged for Belgrade's moderation amid rising anger at ethnic Albanian radicals seen as stoking clashes in Kosovo and southern Serbia.

Participants are expected to urge the West to act more resolutely to stop the disturbances, which leaders attending the summit fear may spread.

"Our main point is a mutual interest in peace in the region and our common will to fight any attempts made by various extremist elements to question existing borders," Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis told reporters.

The summit is also expected to warn Montenegro not to seek independence from Belgrade unilaterally and seek a compromise.

Plans by Montenegro's government to hold an independence referendum later this year, opposed by Belgrade which offers talks on a looser federation, have alarmed the West because many think that changing any border in the Balkans now could encourage breakaway movements in Kosovo, Bosnia and Macedonia.

On the economy, Balkan leaders are due to come up with the latest plan of coordinated regional integration after getting a clear a message from the West that it was the only way to join the European Union and NATO.

The crisis in the regional giant, Turkey, will loom large. A conflict between the prime minister and the president sent markets plunging and triggered a huge devaluation of the lira.

At the heart of the conflict is corruption, a problem endemic in each and every Balkan state.

The summit brings together the leaders of Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey and Romania with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten and Balkan Stability Pact coordinator Bodo Hombach.

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, flew to Skopje despite the crisis raging back home.

DRAFT DOCUMENT DENOUNCES EXTREMISM

A draft summit declaration, seen by Reuters, addresses three main points of the latest Balkan instability. It urges authorities in Serbia and Montenegro, the two remaining republics of former Yugoslavia, to reach a mutually acceptable solution and stresses "the importance of avoiding unilateral actions which may jeopardise negotiations".

On Kosovo, the draft expresses "deep concern over the recent ethnically motivated violence and extremism."

There is growing conviction that trouble in Kosovo is linked to sporadic fighting in Serbia's nearby Presevo Valley, which has a large ethnic Albanian population.

The draft declaration says: "We firmly denounce violent and illegal acts by Albanian extremist groups in southern Serbia."

Sources close to the preparation of the document said it was not clear if Albania, always supportive of ethnic kin in Kosovo, would sign such a wording.

Greece, the only member of both EU and NATO in the region, is to present a plan calling for a stronger presence of the EU's Monitoring Mission in the Presevo Valley.

The Presevo Valley guerrillas, who say they are fighting Serbian repression, have so far ignored both appeals from Belgrade for a dialogue and a blunt demand by NATO to stop.


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