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Europe

15 years after war, Croatia and Serbia sign historic military deal

Croatia and Serbia have penned a landmark military cooperation deal. The agreement is part of efforts to normalize ties between the two former foes, and is being seen as a step forward for their EU-membership bids.

The Croatian and Serbian flags

Serbia and Croatia have a troublesome past

Fifteen years after the end to hostilities between Serbia and Croatia, the two countries have signed a landmark deal on defense cooperation, as the two former Yugoslav republics continue their push for European Union membership.

Serbian Defense Minister Draghan Sutanovac said the deal had professional and political importance.

"It is well known that Serbia and Croatia still have a number of open issues and the agreement provides an impetus for better cooperation," he said, following the signing ceremony in the Croatian capital, Zagreb.

Branko Vukelic, his Croatian counterpart, said the deal also had economic benefits for both states.

"The agreement is important because of a possible cooperation of our military industries, which are quite complementary. It is possible they will jointly appear on foreign markets," he said.

"It is a step forward towards stabilization ... of the whole region," he added. "A precondition for progress and better life for all people."

The two ministers said they also discussed possible future cooperation of their military industries, as well as in education and information sharing regarding international peacekeeping missions.

Improving ties

Croatian President Ivo Josipovic

Ivo Josipovic hailed the deal as a sign of things to come

Serbia and Croatia have taken steps in recent months to normalize relations, with the countries' leaders holding several meetings this year.

Croatian President Ivo Josipovic said earlier this week that the military pact was "a serious sign of normalization and a good prospect for the future."

The two countries were at war with each other between 1991 and 1995 over Croatia's secession from the former Yugoslavia. During the conflict, Belgrade backed ethnic Serbs in parts of Croatia both politically and militarily.

The leaders of both countries have made no secret of their desire to see their countries join the European Union, with the defense cooperation deal seen as a step in the right direction.

However there remain several bones of contention between Serbia and Croatia, namely border disputes and the fate of those who went missing during the war.

Earlier this year, Croatia agreed to let a panel of international arbitrators settle a border dispute with neighboring Slovenia, an EU-members state that was also part of Yugoslavia. Last weekend, Slovenians voted in a referendum to also let the international panel resolve the issue, which had been considered a major stumbling block in Zagreb's bid for EU membership.

Author: Darren Mara (Reuters/AFP)

Editor: Chuck Penfold

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