ZAGREB

JANUARY 12 2009 15:16h

Italy Urges End To Croat-Slovene Border Dispute

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini

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Pahor told a quick solution to the rift between the two former Yugoslav republics was not in sight.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini urged neighbours Slovenia and Croatia on Monday to make progress in their 17-year-old border dispute, which has blocked Croatian headway in European Union accession talks.

But Slovenia's Prime Minister Borut Pahor told reporters in Ljubljana a quick solution to the rift between the two former Yugoslav republics was not in sight.

Frattini, speaking after talks with top Croat officials, said the EU should act as a broker in securing agreement which which would allow Zagreb to conclude accession talks this year. "I think Europe and Italy should act as a facilitator... in finding a quick solution which should deblock this impasse," he told reporters in Italian.

"We think it is feasible for Croatia to complete the talks this year and join the EU in 2010," Frattini said.

Last month Slovenia blocked Croatia's progress in EU talks by imposing a veto on opening and concluding a number of negotiating chapters. Zagreb has so far opened 22 chapters and concluded seven out of a total 35 negotiating areas.

Many analysts believe Croatia will struggle to complete the talks this year unless the Slovenian veto is lifted soon.

The veto is due to a border dispute over slivers of land and a stretch of sea border that the two countries have not been able to settle since the collapse of former Yugoslavia.

"Time is running out once again. Right now there is no relation (between Slovenia and Croatia) that would give us optimism," Slovenia's Pahor said in English.

"We are facing a situation where the problem is not being addressed," he said. He also said the next meeting of Zagreb and EU officials, due in February, was unlikely to "bring any solution" unless something changed.

A team of Croat and Slovene experts is due to meet later this month to agree on how to proceed.

While the border dispute is not part of the EU accession talks, Slovenia says it remains an obstacle for completing talks in certain policy areas, such as fisheries.

Frattini said Croatia had made a lot of progress and had pledged further reforms in judiciary, public administration and fight against corruption.