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News 31 Aug 17

Bosnia, Croatia Reignite Feud Over Peljesac Bridge

Tensions between Bosnia and Croatia are rising again, as officials escalate the dispute over a controversial bridge, intended to enable Croatia to bypass Bosnia and link up its disconnected southern region.

Srecko Latal
BIRN
Sarajevo
Croatian Foreign Minister Marija Pejcinovic Buric and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Stipe Majic

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on Thursday stressed that Croatia will press on with the construction of the construction of the Peljesac Bridge despite Bosnian objections.

"I am once again telling our friends in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the Croatian public, that the project connecting the south of Croatia with the rest of the country ... by the Peljesac bridge, continues," Plenkovic said.

"The bridge will be built, and the dialogue with Bosnia and Herzegovina continues," he added, recalling that the Bosnian and Croatian governments had discussed the issue in Sarajevo in early July.

Plenkovic made his comments one day after Adil Osmanovic, Bosnia's Minister of Civil Affairs, sent his Croatian counterpart, Oleg Butkovic, as well as EU officials, a letter informing them that legal obstacles still prevented the construction of the bridge.

In his letter, Osmanovic said the bridge could not be built before the two countries regulate outstanding border issues, adding that neither country had ratified a bilateral agreement regulating remaining border issues signed in 1999.

Osmanovic urged Croatia immediately to cease all construction work on the bridge and proposed a fresh dialogue on finalising the border agreement and subsequently the continued construction of the bridge.

If Croatia continued unilateral construction of the bridge, Bosnia will withdraw from the border agreement and take steps to protect its borders in line with UN and other international standards, Osmanovic warned.

Politicians in the two countries have been quarrelling over the 2.4-kilometre-long bridge for years. For a decade, pledges to construct this bridge - intended to connect up the Croatian mainland with the tourist resort of Dubrovnik - have formed a regular part of the election campaigns of most Croatian political parties.

Bosnian officials have constantly objected to the project, claiming that the planned bridge was too low and could obstruct sea access to Bosnia's only coastal town of Neum and so ruin the possible construction of a port there.

In reality, the Neum bay is too narrow and shallow for bigger ships and could hardly be used as a port.

This dispute has been ongoing since 2007 when construction of the bridge was first announced.  

Many local and international experts claim that the dispute has less to do with technical or legal issues related to the Peljesac bridge, and more to do with lingering ethnic and political tensions between the two countries.

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