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EU sets conditions for Kosovo visa free regime

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(BRUSSELS) - The European Union on Thursday handed Kosovo a stringent list of almost 100 conditions to meet before Kosovans can travel to the EU's passport-free Schengen zone without a visa.

"I am particularly pleased to be able to present this eagerly anticipated document to the Kosovo government," said the EU's home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, referring to a so-called "roadmap to visa liberalisation".

The citizens of Kosovo are the last in the Balkans to need visas to travel into the Schengen zone covering 26 countries without border controls between them.

"It is a milestone," said Kosovo's European Integration Minister Vlora Citaku. "We had to work hard to get to this place ... We will work hard to make it possible for our citizens to move without visas in the European Union."

Both conceded that Kosovo was being asked to meet far tougher conditions than Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, which were granted visa-free status in December 2009, or than Albania and Bosnia, which won it a year later.

Brussels has also made clear that Kosovo is expected to make huge progress in the areas of readmission and reintegration of refugees.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and is recognised by more than 80 countries, including all but five in the 27-nation European Union.

Malmstroem said however all 27 EU members had "unanimously agreed" to hand the visa roadmap to Kosovo. "There is no conspiracy," she said.

Serbia still considers the breakaway territory as its southern province.

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