Serbia's Prime Minister arrives in Croatia

Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica arrived in Croatia on Wednesday as the former wartime foes seek to repair relations in their shared goal of joining the European Union. The two countries were at war in 1991, when Serbia backed an armed rebellion by Croatia's minority Serbs against the Zagreb government after it declared independence from the former Yugoslavia. The conflict ended in 1995, and diplomatic ties were established a year later.

Relations have vastly improved since then, especially in economic terms, mutual trade has grown sharply, reaching US$500 million (Ђ420 million) last year. Borders are open and many Serbs now visit Croatia as tourists.

The two governments have even considered restarting production of weapons systems they manufactured jointly prior to Yugoslavia's disintegration. But tensions persist, particularly in issues related to the conflict.

In August, Croatia proudly celebrated the 10th anniversary of its recapture of areas once held by Serb rebels. Serbian officials protested, insisting the offensive had targeted innocent Serb civilians, forcing tens of thousands to flee.

Serbs living in Croatia, and Croats living in Serbia, often complain they still are targets of discrimination. Before his visit, Kostunica told Croatia's state-run news agency HINA that despite "some ups and downs," relations "definitely are advancing."

Both governments agree close ties are a precondition for the stability of the whole region of the western Balkans, and for their eventual inclusion into the EU.

Croatia opened membership talks with the EU last month, hoping to join the bloc in 2009. Serbia-Montenegro is lagging behind, having started pre-membership negotiations this month, reports the AP. I.L.

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