March 6, 2018 / 5:01 PM / 3 months ago

Balkan neighbours push to resolve disputes, but deals elusive

MOSTAR, Bosnia (Reuters) - Leaders of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia agreed on Tuesday to push for infrastructure projects to connect their countries, but failed to settle a list of festering disputes at their first trilateral meeting in six years.

Chairman of the Bosnian Tripartite presidency Dragan Covic (C) and members Bakir Izetbegovic (2ndL) and Mladen Ivanic (2ndR) attend a news conference with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (L) and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (R) after a meeting to discuss long-standing issues between the three countries in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

The neighbours - all republics of the former Yugoslavia - met to try and reach deals on borders, security and other issues that have undermined relations since the wars of the 1990s.

“Our discussions are never sweet or simple, there are many problems we inherited,” said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. “Today we have the peace and stability and the strengthening of our trade relations,” he added.

One of the most pressing issues to resolve, he added, was to remove a major obstacle to investors by harmonising tax and customs fees with Bosnia. “This is the matter of life and survival for us,” he said.

EU member Croatia agreed to help Bosnia and Serbia in their plans to join the bloc, officials at the meeting said. The EU has launched a new strategy for the Western Balkans under which the aspirant countries must end all their bilateral territorial conflicts before they can join.

Officials said they would continue to try and solve border disputes through bilateral agreements.

“This was a chance to discuss major problems such as emigration of young people, reconciliation, the halt of inflammatory rhetoric, reforms and security cooperation,” said Bakir Izetbegovic, the Muslim Bosniak member of Bosnia’s three-man inter-ethnic presidency, which hosted the meeting.

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Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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