Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Rasim Ljajic dismissed in Belgrade on Friday as "unfounded" and "incorrect" Croatian Foreign MInister Miro Kovac's statements that Serbia was not ready for accession negotiations with the European Union.

Earlier today, Kovac refuted reports from Brussels and Belgrade that Zagreb had greenlighted the resumption of the negotiations and said that Serbia had not yet "passed the entrance exam" for opening the negotiation chapters.

Ljajic told Kovac that Serbia, "over the past 15 years, has made the biggest progress" in the areas to which Croatia objected - cooperation with the Hague war crimes tribunal, respect for the Croatian minority and ensuring its representation in parliament, and universal jurisdiction for war crimes.

He said Serbia had complied with its obligations to the tribunal by extraditing 45 defendants, as the only country in the region, including former presidents, government members, Army Main Staff members, and the highest civilian and military intelligence representatives.

As for the universal jurisdiction, Ljajic said Croatia "didn't object" when, based on it, those accused for war crimes at Ovcara, Croatia were tried in Belgrade. "Now, all of a sudden, this has become a problem in bilateral relations, although a number of EU member states have the same law, with identical jurisdiction as the court for war crimes in Serbia."

Speaking of minority protection, Ljajic said the UN, the EU, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe and the US administration had assessed that Serbia had achieved impressive results and set "high standards in the protection of human, notably minority, rights."

"Serbia is one of the few countries respecting both individual and collective minority rights, including the right to cultural autonomy. This couldn't be said for many states, including some EU member states and Croatia," Ljajic said.

As for Croatia's demand that Serbia ensure minority representation in parliament, he said the electoral law enabled minorities to enter parliament with a threshold of only 0.4 percent. He said no EU member state enables all minorities to enter parliament unconditionally, not even Croatia.

Ljajic said Serbia wanted "the best possible relations with Croatia," notably in the economy. He added that Serbia wanted to deal with problems stemming from the past with a "cool head" and that "this can be accomplished only through constant talks, bilateral consultations and by seeking compromises and not through ultimatums, blockades and pressure."

The head of Serbia's EU negotiations team, Tanja Miscevic, said a formal decision on opening Chapter 23 would be adopted on June 1 and that this chapter, on the judiciary and fundamental rights, would be opened by the end of the month.

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