By Matt Robinson and Aleksandar Vasovic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia's new leader, a wartime aide of late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, told the Balkans on Thursday to forget the past and not fear the return to power of a political alliance that once led the country in war with NATO.
Confining the reformers who ousted Milosevic to the opposition benches for the first time in 12 years, Ivica Dacic said he would speed up Serbia's bid to join the European Union but would not deal anymore with his country's dark past.
"If they say the word Balkan means 'blood and honey', there's been enough blood, it's time to feel the taste of honey too," the 46-year-old prime minister-designate told parliament shortly before lawmakers were due to vote on his cabinet.
"Serbia is offering the hand of reconciliation, to all. Let's not deal anymore with the past, let's deal with the future."
The West is closely scrutinizing Dacic's assent to the post of prime minister, in alliance with the nationalists of Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, for any sign Serbia might veer from the pro-EU path set by reformers since Milosevic's fall in 2000.
They last shared power at the close of Milosevic's disastrous 13-year rule, when his forces expelled hundreds of thousands of majority ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and NATO bombed for 11 weeks in 1999 to wrest the province from him.
Dacic was Milosevic's spokesman, railing against the West. He now says Serbia's future is in the EU, but Western diplomats admit to deep unease over whether he is really committed to the political and economic reforms it will take.
"A key goal of this government will be the acceleration of European integration and maximum effort to secure a date for the start of accession talks," Dacic said.
Kosovo was Milosevic's last throw of the dice, after fomenting wars in Croatia and Bosnia that killed some 125,000 people as federal Yugoslavia fell apart. He died in 2006 in a cell in The Hague, where he was standing trial for genocide and other war crimes.
The West says Serbia's progress towards EU membership rests on it coming to terms with the loss of Kosovo, an impoverished ethnic Albanian-dominated territory steeped in history and myth for many Serbs but recognized by almost half the world as independent.
"A BALKAN QUAGMIRE"
Dacic said he was ready to continue EU-mediated talks with Kosovo aimed at "normalizing life for all citizens". But Serbia would never recognize it as independent, he said.
The EU says it won't have to, at least explicitly, but it will have loosen its grip on a Serb-populated slice of Kosovo's north, and stop obstructing the country's development.
Dacic has previously advocated splitting Kosovo between its Albanians and Serbs, a non-starter for its European and American backers. His cooperation on Kosovo will determine how quickly the EU opens accession talks with Serbia, which became an official candidate for membership in March.
Ex-Yugoslav republic Slovenia joined the EU in 2004. Croatia is next in 2013 and Montenegro began talks last month.
Dacic was interior minister in the last government with the reformist Democratic Party from 2008, until voters punished the Democrats for a creeping culture of elitism and an economic downturn.
After nationalist leader Nikolic won the presidency in May, Dacic switched allegiances to his Serbian Progressives, a party that emerged from the ultranationalist Radical Party allied with Milosevic in the late 1990s.
With the technocrat United Regions bloc and a handful of smaller parties, the coalition holds around 140 of the Belgrade parliament's 250 seats.
United Regions leader Mladjan Dinkic, who played rock guitar at rallies against Milosevic, becomes finance minister in an unlikely alliance with the parties he protested against.
He inherits an economy sliding into recession, an unemployment rate of 25.5 percent and a shrinking, ageing population that scrapes by on an average net monthly wage of 340 euros ($420).
The new foreign minister is Ivan Mrkic, a career diplomat who was ambassador in Cyprus under Milosevic at a time when, according to reformers, millions of dollars were siphoned out of Serbia via Nicosia.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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