EU leaders agree to rewrite their script for Kosovo

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The Independent Online

Europe yesterday agreed to revamp its faltering efforts to revitalise the Balkans, giving a new role to its top foreign policy supremos and offering economic enticements to countries in the region to embrace Western reforms.

"We are going to open a new page," said Javier Solana, Europe's high representative for foreign policy, who, with Chris Patten, Europe's external affairs commissioner, was given the task of increasing Europe's impact.

The promises came as the Nato secretary general, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, admitted the international community was not doing enough in Kosovo to secure a lasting peace in which ethnic minorities were safe. "I am more than ever convinced that Nato's action was not only the right thing to do but that it was the only thing to do," he said. "I also know that the job is only half done. The conflict may be over but the peace is still to be won."

Lord Robertson and General Wesley Clark, Nato's supreme commander in Europe, cancelled a planned trip to Mitrovica yesterday, the divided city in the north of Kosovo which is the province's most serious flashpoint.

Lord Robertson denied suggestions that the trip had been cancelled because of security concerns. He called on all sides to forget the years of bitterness and take the "chance to break with the past". But he admitted that Serb leaders from Kosovo had declined to meet him.

On the first anniversary of the start of Nato's bombing campaign, European leaders meeting in Lisbon moved to stave off mounting criticism of the West's efforts in the Balkans by admitting the need to bolster their efforts. Tony Blair said the new measures "will allow us to get a better grip on that situation" which is in Europe's "back yard".

EU leaders said it was up to Europe to play "the central role" in supporting Kosovo, and agreed on the need for working "in a much more co-ordinated, coherent fashion".

Yesterday's action followed a controversial report by Mr Solana and Mr Patten - both of whom have recently visited South-eastern Europe - which was highly critical of Europe's efforts. Their joint document concluded that the West is having "considerable difficulties" in Kosovo, that ethnic violence is "at high levels" and that the UN's administration is dogged by "insufficient personnel and resources".

Now Mr Solana and Mr Patten have been asked to come up with a new and concrete set of proposals including measures to increase trade concessions offered to all Balkan countries except Serbia, and to step up assistance to Montenegro.

However heads of government sidestepped a proposal by the president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, to grant another 5.5bn euros (£3.5bn) in aid in the 2001-2006 period.

With President Slobodan Milosevic's grip over Yugoslavia seen as the fundamental obstacle to progress in the Balkans, Europe repeated its plea to the Serbian people to "take their future into their own hands", to cast off their current leadership and "join the European family".

Brussels plans to step up economic assistance to Serbia's neighbours in the hope that President Milosevic will be ringed by pro-Western countries with rising living standards.

In Mitrovica yesterday, Nato peace-keepers tacked up signs to mark out a neutral zone on the northern, Serb-controlled side of the main bridge in the heart of the city.

The Nato-declared "confidence zone" now reaches from the southern, ethnic Albanian side of the main bridge across the Ibar river, to the opposite, Serb-controlled, bank. Serbs in northern Mitrovica are meant to allow free passage and communication between areas held by Serbs and ethnic Albanians.