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Slovenians vote in favour of border deal with Croatia

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-06-07

Slovenia has narrowly approved a border arbitration deal with Croatia in a referendum, clearing a major obstacle to Zagreb's future membership of the European Union.

AFP - Slovenian voters approved Sunday in a referendum a deal to resolve a long-standing border dispute with Croatia via arbitration, results showed, a move that could boost Zagreb's EU ambitions.

With over 99 percent of the votes counted, 51.48 percent were in favour and 48.52 percent against referring to arbitration the dispute over a small wedge of Adriatic Sea coastline.

Turnout was over 42.28 percent of the 1.7 million eligible voters.

In his first reaction to the official victory of the Yes vote, centre-left Prime Minister Borut Pahor said it was "a historic day on which we have solved one of Slovenia's greatest strategic problems."

"This is a victory for Slovenia, a Slovenia that is looking to the future, capable of solving its problem in a peaceful way," Pahor told journalists and supporters gathered in the ruling coalition's headquarters in central Ljubljana.

He added that the deal "is very good for Slovenia and acceptable for Croatia and allows both nations to live in friendship."

Croatian President Ivo Josipovic hailed the outcome of the referendum.

"The success of the referendum on arbitration is an important victory for Slovenia, Croatia and Europe," a statement from Josipovic's office said.

Apart from improving friendly ties between the two countries, the result "enables Croatia to conclude (EU) accession talks without the burden of the border problem that will be solved through arbitration," it said.

"It is a contribution to a concept of EU enlargment that includes Croatia and in the future all countries of southeastern Europe."

Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor was on Monday to give a statement regarding the result of the referendum.

Slovenian President Danilo Turk, who also had backed the arbitration deal, said in a statement broadcast live that the result of the vote was "a step forward in the solution of the dispute (with Croatia)."

"Tomorrow a new phase will start: preparing the documents that will have to be presented to the arbitration panel to enable it to reach a just solution," Turk said, calling on all experts in the country to contribute to that task.

Ljubljana and Zagreb have been squabbling since the breakup of Yugoslavia nearly two decades ago over 13 square kilometres (five square miles) of largely uninhabited land and a wedge of territorial water in and around Piran Bay.

Slovenia, which has just 46 kilometres (29 miles) of coastline, sees its access to international waters at stake because Croatia, whose huge Adriatic coast stretches for 1,700 kilometres (1,060 miles), wants the border to be drawn down the middle of the bay.

When both countries were part of Yugoslavia, borders were not really important. But since they declared independence in 1991, the issue has festered, souring relations.

Slovenia -- which was the first former Yugoslav communist republic to join the European Union in 2004 -- vetoed between 2008 and 2009 Croatia's bid to become the bloc's 28th member, fearing that Zagreb's membership application would tacitly recognise Croatia's definition of its borders.

The arbitration deal, backed by the EU, was reached by the two governments in November and both countries' parliaments approved the solution, but Slovenia decided to put it to a popular referendum as well.

Pahor and his centre-left coalition insist that resolving the dispute via arbitration is the best possible solution because it would specifically include an article giving Slovenia direct access to international shipping waters, a crucial point for the tiny Alpine state.

But the centre-right opposition slammed the deal as "capitulation" and had called on voters to reject it, saying it went against the country's interests.

"Slovenia is the absolute loser today... we will all pay for this result," the head of the main opposition Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) and former prime minister Janez Jansa said about the vote results.

Date created : 2010-06-07