Serbian Minister for European Integration Jadranka Joksimovic said on Monday that Serbia would deal with bilateral issues with Croatia separately from the European Union because these were two separate legal institutional frameworks, according to media in Belgrade.

Serbia opened two key chapters in its EU accession negotiations in Brussels on Monday -- Chapter 23, dealing with the judiciary and fundamental rights, and Chapter 24, concerning freedom, justice and security.

In anticipation of the EU-Serbia intergovernmental conference, Serbian media speculated that Zagreb might block the opening of the two chapters insisting that Serbia stop applying universal jurisdiction to war crimes prosecution.

Joksimovic said that Serbia was "always ready for discussions and analyses", but that there was no place for bilateral matters in the negotiating process with the EU "which has clear procedures and benchmarks".

Bilateral negotiations are a separate thing, as shown by the declaration on resolving outstanding issues which was recently signed by Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, Joksimovic said.

"That declaration confirms that bilateral issues have to be addressed and they will certainly be addressed bilaterally, while European procedures and rules are separate," she underscored.

The Croatian Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs says that five Croatian demands have been incorporated into the EU's negoating position, including one that says that Serbia has to avoid conflicts of legal jurisdiction, which means that it will not be able to prosecute Croatian veterans.

A high-level source at the Croatian ministry said that this was now one of Serbia's obligations towards the EU. "Serbia must avoid conflicts of legal jurisdiction and must review its legislation. The law in question should de facto be suspended as of today", the source said, adding that Serbia "will not try our veterans."

 "Without meeting this obligation, Serbia will not be able to enter the EU. Croatia will not allow that", the source said.

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