Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic says that Croatia cannot prevent Serbia joining the European Union, describing threats by Zagreb that it will slow Serbia's EU integration process over the Seselj war crimes case as tragicomic.

In interviews with the Belgrade-based newspapers Kurir and Blic published on Sunday, Dacic commented on reactions by Croatian government officials to the decision by the Hague war crimes tribunal to deliver a verdict against Seselj in his absence because he had refused to attend the sentencing hearing scheduled for March 31, and referred to a Croatian Parliament resolution saying that Croatia would not obstruct Serbia's EU integration with bilateral issues. He expressed his confidence that the EU would not tolerate Croatian comments about stopping Serbia on its EU path.

"Serbia supports regional stability, but Croatia will not be able to misuse its membership of the EU because arguments are on our side," Dacic told Blic. He told Kurir that "threats that Croatia will slow Serbia's European integration are tragicomic." "That would be contrary to a resolution by the Sabor saying that bilateral issues will not be used as a condition for the EU integration of Serbia," he added.

Dacic said that instead of tolerating hate speech and anti-Serbian euphoria it would be better for Croatia to focus on how both countries could live better, cooperate better and have better economic relations. "It's easy to cause people to quarrel, but it's difficult to reconcile them. We should have good relations with Croatia, but we must defend Serbs and Serbia."

The Croatian Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs said earlier this week that Croatia supported Serbia in its efforts to get closer to the EU, but that before opening negotiations in Chapter 23, which deals with judiciary and fundamental rights, Serbia must first ensure respect for human and minority rights and full cooperation with the Hague tribunal. It criticised Serbia for applying the principle of universal jurisdiction to all war crimes committed throughout the territory of the former Yugoslavia.

Dacic said that Croatia's threats were unwarranted and that it was violating its own resolutions. "The new government in Croatia is obviously behaving like the previous one, using the relationship with Serbia as an issue for domestic political purposes," he said, adding that the Seselj case was not a matter for Serbia but for the Hague tribunal.

"Frankly speaking, there are many more Seseljs in Croatia walking around freely, shouting 'For the Homeland Ready!" at stadiums and holding concerts with Pavelic's pictures," Dacic said and asked: "What does Croatia want: an escalation or normalisation of relations with Serbia?" "For the Homeland Ready!" was a salute used by the Nazi-style Ustasha regime, led by Ante Pavelic, which ruled Croatia during the Second World War.

"As far as Serbia is concerned, we are in favour of normalising relations, but we are ready to defend our national interests," Dacic said, reiterating that Serbia would ask the EU to respond to sharply-worded messages from Zagreb.

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