Monday, June 13, 2011

Serbia Hosts Major NATO Conference

A NATO conference in Belgrade this week will bring together scores of defence officials from across the globe, but it will not change Serbia's neutral stance towards the alliance, the government says.

Bojana Barlovac

Belgrade is set to host a three-day long annual NATO conference starting on Monday, but state officials have stressed that the fact that Serbia is holding the event does not mean that the country's stance towards the alliance has changed.

Tanja Miscevic, state secretary in Serbia's Defence Ministry, stressed on Sunday that the gathering will include NATO and non-NATO countries, including Russia.

Ever since NATO bombed Serbia in 1999 over the conflict in Kosovo, the issue of alliance membership has been politically sensitive, as protests on Sunday against the conference showed.

Several hundred people in downtown Belgrade chanted slogans against the alliance in the protest on Sunday, while some scuffled with police. More protests are planned for Monday.

Serbia's Army Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Miloje Miletic, will open the conference, which will cover international military cooperation, ensuring access to shared global resources and developing professional defense and security sectors.

The conference is the largest international military event that has ever been organised in Serbia.

Serbian Defence Minister Dragan Sutanovac said on Friday that the Serbian Army will enjoy increased recognition among international military experts and the public as a result of the conference.

Serbia became a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace, PfP, programme in December 2006, after signing a cooperation agreement with NATO in which democratic, institutional and defence reforms were key.

As part of the PfP, Serbia has engaged in limited security and defence reform cooperation with the Alliance, while military officers and civilians have participated in various alliance activities.

But whether Serbia will ever join the Alliance remains a moot point. In April 2009, Serbia unveiled drafts of national security and defence strategies in which it maintained its doctrine of military neutrality.

According to the latest research carried out by Serbia's Center for Free Elections and Democracy, CeSID, in April and May on 1,200 respondents, two-thirds of Serbians are against NATO membership.

In an interview with Serbian daily newspaper Vecernje Novosti on Friday, Sutanovac said that after the NATO summit, Serbia will not be any closer or further away from NATO than it is today.

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