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EU lifts visa requirements for Balkan states

Serbian, Montenegrin and Macedonian nationals can travel visa-free inside the EU's borderless Schengen zone from Saturday.

A montage of the EU flag and a German-language visa form

Visa forms are a thing of the past for travelers from three Balkan states

A group of 50 Serbian nationals left Belgrade after midnight for their first visa-free visit to several European Union countries.

The visit, organized by the Serbian authorities and supported by the European Commission's Directorate General for Enlargement as well as by the embassies of France, Italy and Germany, symbolically marks the abolition of visas for Serbian citizens to travel to the EU.

"These are ordinary people who have done something extraordinary and have so far never seen Europe," Bozidar Djelic, Serbia's deputy prime minister in charge of European integrations, told a press conference prior to the trip.

Travel restrictions were lifted following a November 30 decision by the EU that nationals of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia would be able to travel without visa to all its member states, except Britain and Ireland.

The plane carrying the Serbian nationals – selected through the "Europe for everyone" competition and who have not had the opportunity to visit the European Union before – left Belgrade for Brussels shortly after midnight local time.

Beside Brussels, the group will also visit Rome, Berlin and Paris, spending two days in each of the European capitals.

In Brussels, the group would meet with European Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn, and a number of other officials.

In the Macedonian capital, Skopje, several thousand people gathered at the main square to celebrate the abolition of visas. The Macedonian government is also planning to organize a symbolic trip for its citizens.

And in Montenegro, the authorities announced a celebratory visit by 100 citizens to Rome on Sunday.

Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro are all aspirants for EU membership, but only Macedonia has formerly attained the status of a candidate. Serbia says it is currently engaged in talks with the EU and could decide next week on whether to apply for membership. Serbian entry has been stalled due to its failure to arrest ex-Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, who has been charged with war crimes.

Editor: Andreas Illmer

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