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Belgrade - Serbia will step up efforts to win accession to the European Union and seek regional reconciliation, the new president said on Friday, aiming to improve his image which has been tainted by controversial policies and remarks.
Shortly after his surprise election victory last month Tomislav Nikolic, a former ultra-nationalist, sparked anger in the Balkans by denying the genocide of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serb forces at Srebrenica.
He also said the Croatian border town of Vukovar, reduced to rubble during a siege by Serb forces in 1991, “was a Serb town”.
His remarks prompted the leaders of most ex-Yugoslav republics, which are still coming to terms with bloody wars that led to the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, as well as Albania to stay away from his inauguration last week.
Mistrust towards Nikolic was demonstrated at the two-day Belgrade meeting of the South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP), a 12-country regional body, which started on Thursday.
Slovenia's president did not attend, Croatia and Albania sent only assistant foreign ministers, while Bosnia sent a Serb member of its tripartite presidency, instead of the Muslim chairman of the body.
In an address to the SEECP on Friday Nikolic, who was once allied with late strongman Slobodan Milosevic, attempted to strike a diplomatic note, saying Serbia would try to reconcile with Bosnia and Croatia.
“I expect the beginning of our cooperation after the end of initial disorientation,” he said.
“On my part I will strive to ensure the continuity of this policy because it represents one of the strategic goals of my country's foreign policy,” Nikolic said.
Serbia will also be “promoting, reforming and altering the systems that hinder its development and prosperity” to speed up its EU bid, Nikolic said.
When Serbia secured its EU candidacy in March, the European Commission warned it had to improve it legal system and business climate, and curb corruption before accession talks could start.
Nikolic said Serbia would also make more efforts to mend ties with Kosovo but that it would never recognise as a country the region that seceded from Serbia in 2008.
Belgrade and Pristina have already struck deals on travel documents and car licence plates, but occasional flare-ups persist.
The SEECP meeting ended without a joint declaration as Serbia and Albania disagreed over the possible inclusion and representation of Kosovo in the SEECP.
Since 2008 Kosovo has been recognised by 90 states including the United States and 22 out of 27 EU members.
The SEECP, consisting of Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia, Romania, Moldova, Serbia, Slovenia and Turkey, was set up in 1996 to promote members' EU integration.
Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Slovenia are EU members, while Croatia will formally join the bloc in 2013. Other countries aspire to join, and Montenegro is expected to secure a date for accession talks this month. - Reuters