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Serbian president visits Croatia amid protests

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Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic (1st R, Front) and visiting Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (2nd R, Front) review the guard of honor during a welcome ceremony in Zagreb, Croatia, on Feb. 12, 2018. The presidents of Croatia and Serbia pledged Monday to work on easing tensions between the two neighboring countries issued from a bloody break-up of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, amid protests by Croatian war veterans. (Xinhua/Igor Soban)


The presidents of Croatia and Serbia pledged Monday to work on easing tensions between the two neighboring countries issued from a bloody break-up of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, amid protests by Croatian war veterans.

At the invitation of the Croatian President Kolina Grabar-Kitarovic, her Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic came for a two-day visit to Croatia, in an attempt to start resolving some of the most painful issues in the relations between the two countries and boost economic ties.

"Unfortunately, relations between Serbia and Croatia are burdened by the past. Unfortunately, that past is still preventing us from being able to describe the relations between our two countries as friendly, but it is our obligation to meet and talk and find common interests," Croatian President Grabar-Kitarovic said after talking with Vucic.

Both Croatia and Serbia, she added "share common responsibility for the future of southeast Europe."

Vucic said he came to "discuss all our open issues, which are many."

"In the next one hundred days we will try to change the atmosphere," said the Serbian president at a joint press conference.

Both presidents acknowledged they still disagreed on many issues, including the Danube river border between the two countries. Of the 262 km border between Croatia and Serbia, 136 km are along the Danube River.

Grabar-Kitarovic and Vucic agreed that Serbia and Croatia would try to resolve the border problem in the next two years, or turn to an international court for arbitration.

Last week, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the members of the European parliament in Strasbourg that no country from the Western Balkans would be able to join the EU without resolving border disputes.

EU leaders granted Serbia candidate status at a Brussels summit in March 2012, and Vucic expressed hope that Croatia, an EU member since 2013, would not hinder Belgrade's path to European integration. But he also said that Serbia would not beg for a favorable opinion.

"We shall not beg anyone for anything, neither Croatia nor the EU," said Vucic, referring to the opening of the various chapters in the negotiation process. "But we shall ask and call for better relations between Serbs and Croats, because it is of an utmost importance for both of our nations.".

Grabar-Kitarovic said that her intention is to "show that we are mature enough and responsible to resolve open issues bilaterally, without the pressure from the international community."

More than 1,000 Croatian war veterans, widows and families of missing persons and nationalists protested in Zagreb against Vucic on Monday.

The visit was originally planned for last year, but was postponed amid numerous disputes.

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