JULY 23 2012 21:13h

Croatia's deputy defence minister meets with Serbian army chief

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The Chief of the Serbian Army General Staff, General Ljubisa Dikovic, met with Croatia's Deputy Defence Minister, Visnja Tafra, in Zagreb on Monday as part of his official visit to the Croatian Armed Forces.

The meeting focused on defence cooperation between the two countries, the strengthening of security and stability in the region, and participation in international military and peacekeeping operations, the Defence Ministry said in a statement.

Tafra said that the bilateral defence cooperation had been good so far, expressing hope that it would continue so in the future and that Serbia would maintain its European course after the formation of a new government in Belgrade.

"Depending on the financial situation, the Republic of Croatia is open to expanding the bilateral cooperation, and the plan of bilateral military cooperation for 2012 is being implemented very well. A new area of cooperation has opened up this year as part of cooperation between the two river fleets," Tafra said, adding that the strengthening of good neighbourly relations in the region was the basic prerequisite for lasting security and sustainable stability and cooperation in Southeast Europe.

Congratulating Serbia on receiving EU membership candidate status, Tafra expressed hope that the new government of Serbia would continue the reform process on its path towards the European Union, adding that Croatia was willing to help Serbia in that regard by sharing its experience from the EU accession process.

Tafra said that, in order to maintain stability, security and peace in the region, Croatia would remain committed to building open and constructive dialogue with Serbia, and that it would not raise bilateral issues during negotiations between its neighbours and the European Union.

Dikovic said that Serbia would not change its policy of constant promotion of regional cooperation regardless of forthcoming political and personnel changes in its government and defence system.

"Serbia continues to see the common future of the countries in the region, based on good bilateral cooperation with each neighbour," Dikovic said. He added that he and the Chief of the General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces, General Drago Lovric, had discussed a possibility of Serbian troops participating in EU combat groups as well as all models of defence cooperation, citing the defence cooperation agreement which Croatia and Serbia signed in 2010.

Dikovic said that Serbia's ambition was to have a permanent presence in United Nations peacekeeping missions, adding that it planned to contribute about 600 troops for that purpose this year.

The two sides agreed to strengthen their bilateral cooperation in the defence industry, saying that teams of experts should look into a possibility of launching joint projects on third markets. (Hina)