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Balkan foes find common ground in bid to join 28-nation EU

Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati, left, and Goran Svilanovic, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council of the Southeast European Cooperation Process, head the meeting of Southeast European countries in Tirana, Friday May 22, 2015. Western Balkan countries are urged from the European Union to strengthen their regional cooperation along their steps to join the bloc. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)n

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Foreign ministers and senior diplomats from several Balkan countries — many with troubled relations stemming from wars in the 1990s — met Friday in the Albanian capital of Tirana to try and advance each others’ bids to join the European Union.

The meeting took place ahead of a landmark visit to Tirana next week of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, the first to Albania by a Serbian prime minister. Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that visit would boost regional stability.

“Last year’s visit from (Albanian) Prime Minister Edi Rama to Belgrade was very fruitful. The visit of Prime Minister Vucic will be of importance for both countries and for Balkan stability,” he said.

Friday’s meeting brought together representatives of countries that have long had troubled relations in the volatile region: Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.

Albanian Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati said the political crisis and ethnic tensions in neighboring Macedonia could undermine other Balkan nations’ bids for accession to the 28-nation EU, the world’s largest trading bloc.

“One country’s security is inseparable from our joint security … It’s a threat to the region’s EU integration,” Bushati said.

Macedonia is engulfed in one of its deepest political crises since gaining independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Adding to the tensions, a shootout in the northern city of Kumanovo this month between police and suspected ethnic Albanian militants left 18 dead.

Rama, the Albanian prime minister, warned earlier this week that his country could block Macedonia’s bid to join NATO unless it improves its record on respecting the rights of the country’s sizeable ethnic Albanian minority.

The talks are part of gatherings organized for Albania’s presidency of the South-East European Cooperation Process, a regional grouping of 13 Balkan nations set up to promote cooperation. The group’s presidents and prime ministers are to meet in Tirana next week.

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