Croat, Serb presidents pledge new era ties, eyeing on EU

The presidents of Croatia and Serbia promised "a new era in relations", effectively resuming ties between the two biggest former Yugoslav republics.

Croat, Serb presidents pledge new era ties, eyeing on EU

The presidents of Croatia and Serbia promised "a new era in relations" on Wednesday, effectively resuming ties between the two biggest former Yugoslav republics after a year of silent hostility.

Cooperation among western Balkan states, which want to join the European Union but are burdened by historic rivalries, is a main requirement for their progress towards EU membership.

"This is not just a symbolic new beginning. We have agreed concrete steps for our bilateral relations and for regional cooperation," Serbian President Boris Tadic said after a working lunch with Croatia's new head of state, Ivo Josipovic.

Serbia's relations have cooled with all its Balkan neighbours which recognised its former province of Kosovo, including Croatia, since Kosovo declared independence in 2008.

Kosovo's Albanian majority backed by the Western countries declared independence in 2008 nine years after Serbia moved ethnic cleansing in a 1998-1999 war. Nato stopped the Serbian forces in a 78-day bombing.

Kosovo is recognized as an independent state by 62 countries from mostly European Union and also Muslim countries around world such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia.

Tadic was the only regional leader to miss Josipovic's inauguration last month, and Zagreb and Belgrade had held no high-level meetings in the past year.

"Our two countries also have the responsibility for the region and it is in our interest that the entire region joins the EU," Tadic said after Wednesday's talks in the Croatian seaside resort of Opatija.

Of the ex-Yugoslav republics, only Slovenia has joined the EU. Croatia hopes to follow in 2012 but the others face a long haul. Apart from political and economic reforms, Serbia also has to cooperate with the U.N. war crimes tribunal and show what Brussels regards as a more constructive stance on Kosovo.

Tadic had also refused to attend a high-level Western Balkans-EU conference organised by Slovenia last week alongside the officials from Kosovo.

The presidents, dressed casually and looking relaxed, agreed relations would improve soon and Josipovic said high-level meetings would become regular now that the ice was broken.

"There are a lot of topics for discussion and some open issues. Some of those are easy, some are not, but we have agreed on the principles -- we want to solve them in the spirit of European partnership," said Tadic.

Most of the problems are a legacy of Croatia's 1991-95 war of independence against local Serbs backed by Belgrade -- the return of Serb refugees and their property, war crimes trials and the treatment of minorities.

Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 24 Mart 2010, 23:09
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