Balkan Rivals Vow to Solve Long-Standing Border, Other Disputes

(Bloomberg) -- The presidents of Croatia and Serbia vowed to resolve some issues that have lingered since the bloody wars that tore apart Yugoslavia almost three decades ago as the latter tries to step up its efforts to join its neighbor in the European Union.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic and her Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic said they’ll seek to overcome border dispute and transport issues, as well as disagreements over the treatment of minorities and people missing from their 1990s conflicts.

“We share joint responsibility for the future of southeast Europe, and we have no choice but to continue to talk,” Kitarovic said Monday in Zagreb. “We have a lot of problems, but we agreed to resolve several of our open issues.”

The two neighbors will hold bilateral talks to resolve disputes along the 136-kilometer-long (84-mile) frontier along the Danube River. They’ll also seek international arbitration if there is no success in the next two years, they told reporters. An overhaul of the railway connecting the two capitals is another priority, they said.

While the two countries have been at odds over issues related to the collapse of the Yugoslav federation, Serbia, an EU candidate, will need a nod from the bloc’s newest member to be admitted. Kitarovic reiterated Croatia’s support for Serbia to join the EU. She and Vucic didn’t mention outstanding issues including potential war reparations for the damage incurred on Croatian territory during the 1991-1995 conflict and a consensus over the jurisdiction for war crimes.

In 1991, the government in Belgrade aided the rebellion of ethnic Serbs in Croatia, who seized control of nearly one-third of the country and expelled hundreds of thousands of Croats. The tables turned in 1995, when about 200,000 ethnic Serbs fled to Serbia when the Croatian army retook the territory. An estimated 20,000 people were killed and thousands are still missing during the five years of conflict.

“As for the past, we agree on almost nothing, but at least we understand that the other side has a different view,” said Vucic, who as a lawmaker during the war urged Croatian ethnic Serbs to never surrender to Croatia. “However, Serbia and Croatia will have to forge much better relations in the future, whether politicians like it or not.”

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