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Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 29 April 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the situation in Serbia. [110004]

Further to my answer of 21 March 2003, Official Report, column 125W, to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) on the assistance being offered to the Serbian Government in the aftermath of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's assassination on 12 March 2003, I visited Belgrade on 7 April. I met Serbian and Serbia and Montenegro leaders to discuss how best to sustain reform, notably to combat organised crime and ensure co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.In the days following the assassination, European Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten and EU High Representative Javier Solana visited Belgrade. On 26 March the Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stabilisation (CARDS) Management Committee approved the CARDS annual action programme for SaM, including aid of Euro 229 million for Serbia, Euro 13.5 million for Montenegro and Euro 49 million for Kosovo. On 3 April 2003 Serbia and Montenegro became the 45th member of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers (PACE) will closely monitor SaM's post accession commitments, including further co-operation with the ICTY.The Serbian Government has taken steps towards judicial, political and military reform by disbanding the `Red Berets' Special Operations Unit (JSO) and the retirement of 35 court judges linked to Slobodan Milosevic. I welcome the Government's efforts in tackling organised crime and war criminals, building on developments this year, notably the disinterment of missing ex Serbian President Ivan Stambolic's remains, and the transfer of former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic and Serbian Radical Party Leader Vojislav Seselj to The Hague. We look forward to further developments.

The State of Emergency imposed following Djindjic's assassination on 12 March ended on 22 April. 10,000 people from different crime gangs have been questioned and 4,500 people detained in relation to the assassination and other crimes committed before and after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

The EU is monitoring the implementation of post State of Emergency legislation, including terms of detention and independence of the judiciary. Within the EU and other bodies, we are discussing how to take forward closer integration with Europe in a way which maintains EU conditionality, while helping SaM and other countries of the region achieve the standards required.