Gordan Markotić, Miro Kovač, Ivica Dačić.jpg
Photograph: HINA / MVEP / mm

Serbia and Croatia are prepared to resolve all outstanding issued both bilaterally and within the frameworks of Serbia's EU entry negotiations which Croatia supports and is ready to assist, the two countries' foreign ministers Miro Kovac of Croatia and Ivica Dacic of Serbia said in Subotica on Friday.

Taking part in a ceremony marking the 26th anniversary of the Democratic League of Croats of Vojvodina (DSHV) as envoys of Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, the two ministers stressed that two decades after the war both sides must turn to the future but they must not leave behind unresolved issues from the past.

Minister Dacic conveyed Prime Minister Vucic's promise that he would personally advocate the solving of problems of Croat minority in Serbia, notably in the sectors of education, fundamental rights and the media.

Croatia's minister said that while fully supporting Serbia's European journey, Zagreb will continue to insist on the implementation of all benchmarks and conventions that relate to the rights of the Croat minority.

Kovac said Dacic's arrival at the celebration of the DSHV's anniversary was a sign "that the Serbian government wants Croats in Vujvodina and Serbia to feel safe," underscoring that both countries wanted to implement the agreement on the protection of ethnic minority, given that it had already been ratified in the Croatian and the Serbian parliament.

"Just like Serbs have three seats in the Croatian parliament we want Serbia to guarantee (seats to Croats) in the Serbian parliament, in accordance with the agreement. This is not only a matter of bilateral relations but also the European criteria and both countries believe in the European future," Kovac said

He underscored that the negotiating process with the EU represented an "opportunity for Serbia because the respect of minority rights is one of the fundamental European values and Croatia will take special interest in that." "Croatia will on its end do everything to improve the position of Croats in Vojvodina and Serbia and we are confident that all of us together have a better future and that we can openly talk about the past and resolve problems in the interest of both peoples. These are not only bilateral criteria but also European standards and so let us improve the life of every person both in Serbia and Croatia," Kovac said.

Minister Dacic said that the objective in the development of the two countries' relation was to form as many task forces as possible which would concretely deal with outstanding issue. "Unfortunately, we did not go far in that process. We mostly talked and worked only a little. Serbia is prepared to implement the cooperation agreement, but for example in the past four years Croatia had not appointed its representatives and the border commission and the Croatian foreign ministry has been delaying the forming of task forces for two years," Dacic said.

He stressed that it was "in the interest of both Serbia and Croatia to find common ground for the interests which existed. It has been 20 years and I hope that the signed declaration is the foundation for a better cooperation," Dacic said and thanked Croatia for its consent which will enable Serbia to open Chapters 23 and 24 at the intergovernmental conference on July 18.

Kovac said Serbia's future must be in Europe which means that war legacy must be resolved both bilaterally and within the frameworks of Serbia's EU entry talks.

He underscored the problem of Serbia's law on the universal jurisdiction for war crimes and insisted that the said law be revoked in the process of resolving outstanding issues, saying that the public in Croatia was concerned over statements made by a Serbian senior judicial official who said the law would still be in force."We must resolve this, this law must be changed and the authorities in Serbia are expected to voice their position about it, because this law is unacceptable to our war veterans," Kovac said, adding that the issue of the universal jurisdiction for war crimes was at the same time a bilateral issue and part of the European standards and that this would affect good-neighbourly and partner relations.

Dacic said that 14 years ago Serbia received the support of the international community and the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague for this law because it helped bring war criminals to justice.

"Now Serbia is getting different messages and Mr Kovac knows that ten other EU countries have the same law. But in the negotiating process we shall look for the best solution," Dacic said adding that Kovac's statement was made in the context of the current political situation in Croatia, alluding to the campaign for the early parliamentary election.

In response to that, Kovac said: "Dear Ivica, after all, the war did take place in Croatia."

Despite different opinions on certain contentious issues, Kovac and Dacic said they were optimistic that the new Serbian and the future Croatian government would find common ground for the solving of contentious issues.

After taking part in the ceremony marking the DSHV anniversary, the two ministers travelled to Tavankut where they were expected to meet representatives of ethnic Croats.

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