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Serbia granted EU candidate status

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BRUSSELS, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Serbia received European Union candidate status but must improve relations with Kosovo before talks on membership proceed, the European Commission said.

Serbia would move closer to membership in the bloc "with the understanding that Serbia is re-engaging in dialogue with Kosovo and implementing agreements reached to date," EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said at a press conference, EUobserver.com reported.

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With its delivery of the last two war crime suspects to the international court in The Hague last year, Serbia has "achieved progress in important areas," Fuele said.

But he said opening EU membership talks with Serbia would be tied to "further steps to normalize relations with Kosovo."

Talks between Serbia and Kosovo came to a halt after violence in northern Kosovo during the summer.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nor do five EU countries.

At the same time, EUobserver.com reported, Kosovo has been asked to integrate the Serbian population in the north. The estimated 60,000 ethic Serbs living in northern Kosovo reject Pristina's authority.

Fuele said organized crime and corruption remain "major challenges" in Kosovo and called for judicial reform.

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EUobserver.com noted Croatia, which finalized membership talks in June, is expected to join the EU in 2013.

Montenegro got the go-ahead to start membership talks but will have to focus first on its biggest challenges, justice and home affairs, the commission said.

Other countries' progress has stalled. Applications for Bosnia, Albania and Macedonia are not moving forward.

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