Five western Balkan countries, Japan, the European Union and other parties reaffirmed Monday their commitment to consolidating peace and stability in the western Balkans as they wrapped up a one-day ministerial conference in Tokyo.
“The western Balkan countries, in partnership with the international community, will continue to work together to promote stability, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human and minority rights,” they said in a statement issued after the conference.
Delegates to the Ministerial Meeting on Consolidation and Economic Development of the Western Balkans also condemned last month’s clash between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, which was the worst violence in the U.N.-administered Serbian province since the 1999 Kosovo war.
The meeting marked the first time that ministers from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro have gathered since the March 17-20 incident, which left 30 people dead and 900 injured.
The foreign and economic ministers from the five countries also pledged that they will work together to launch a regional free-trade agreement, which would create a single market for 50 million people, along with entry into the EU in the near future.
During the talks, Japan and the EU, which cochaired the meeting, called for further efforts to halt corruption, organized crime and illegal trafficking to facilitate their continued reconstruction aid.
The Balkan side meanwhile promised to step up political and economic reforms to meet these requests.
“Organized crime and illegal trafficking are impediments to the establishment of the rule of law and a sound business environment in the western Balkans,” Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said in her opening address.
The Balkan ministers reiterated their calls for greater economic assistance from Japan, the EU and other donors, though the meeting did not generate any specific types or amounts of financial assistance.
Japan hosted the conference as part of a drive to promote conflict prevention and peace-consolidation diplomacy, one of the main pillars of the country’s international cooperation policy.
Tom Kitt, Irish minister for development cooperation and human rights, voiced gratitude for Japan’s active involvement in international efforts toward the reconstruction of the western Balkans since the war in the 1990s, which he said symbolizes the growing partnership between Japan and the EU.
The meeting brought together delegates from 39 countries, including the U.S.