slovenija, žica, granica, ograda.jpg
Photograph: HINA/ Tomislav Pavlek/ tp

A panel of five arbiters deliberating on a border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia have suspended their deliberations until they study the legal implications of Croatia's decision to withdraw from the arbitration process, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) said on Friday.

"The Tribunal will now begin its deliberations concerning the legal implications of the matters set out in Croatia's letters of 24 July 2015 and 31 July 2015. In the meantime, any consideration by the Tribunal regarding the merits of the underlying territorial and maritime dispute remains suspended," the court said in a press release.

In the letters and subsequent documents, the Croatian government informed Slovenia and the arbiters of its intention to terminate the arbitration agreement because of material breaches of the agreement by Slovenia, citing provisions on the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Slovenia, on the other hand, argued that no material breach had occurred and that the Arbitral Tribunal should complete its mandate and render an award.

The previous government of Croatia decided to withdraw from the arbitration after information published last year proved unlawful contacts between Slovenian arbiter Jernej Sekolec and Slovenian government agent Simona Drenik. Since the decision was supported by a resolution unanimously adopted by the Croatian parliament, the new government of Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic has assumed the same position and notified UN member states of the termination of the arbitration agreement.

Speaking ahead of his visit to Slovenia next week, Croatian Foreign Minister Miro Kovac has reiterated that the arbitration process is no longer Croatia's concern because it withdrew from it, but that Zagreb is ready for bilateral talks to settle the border dispute.

Slovenian officials said on Thursday, after the tribunal was addressed by Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec, that they were optimistic about the continuation of the arbitration process and that the arbitration agreement was still binding on both parties, even though Croatia had withdrawn. Prime Minister Miro Cerar said that he was increasingly confident that the arbitration was the only way to settle the dispute.

Slovenia had for a long time blocked Croatia on its path to EU membership, demanding "a junction to the high sea". After the arbitration agreement was signed in 2009, Slovenian officials often said that the arbitration could be terminated at any time if the two parties decided to seek a better solution through bilateral negotiation.

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