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News 07 Aug 17

Croatia Rejects Bosnian ‘Threats’ Over Peljesac Bridge

After Bosnia’s ruling party vowed to halt construction of the controversial Peljesac Bridge, intended to bypass Bosnian coastal territory, a Croatian minister said “no threats” can prevent Zagreb’s plans.

Danijel Kovacevic
BIRN
Banja Luka
The location of future Peljesac bridge [marked in red]. Photo: Axo at the German language Wikipedia

Gabrijela Zalac, Croatia’s minister for regional development, said on Sunday evening that construction of the Peljesac Bridge, which will connect two pieces of Croatian territory that are currently divided by a 14-kilometre stretch of Bosnian coast, will not be stopped.

“No threats can endanger the construction of the Peljesac Bridge, considering that on June 7, the European Commission approved the project,” Zalac said.

“There are no international agreements nor state contracts nor anything else that could in some way prevent the construction of this bridge,” she added.

Her comments came after Halid Genjac, chairman of the main board of Bosnia’s ruling Party of Democratic Action, SDA, said on Saturday that Sarajevo has never given its consent to the building of the bridge because it would be detrimental for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“The construction of the bridge would block this unique maritime link between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the open sea,” Genjac told a press conference.

The 2.4-kilometre-long Peljesac Bridge is intended to connect the Croatian mainland with the Peljesac peninsula, giving Croatia a continuous land link that bypasses Bosnian territory.

The current coastal road passes through a sliver of Bosnian territory around the town of Neum, Bosnia’s only sea port.
The dispute has been ongoing since 2007, when the construction of the bridge was first announced.

Croatia wants the bridge so its citizens can reach the south of the country without crossing Bosnia’s borders. 

But Bosnia has protested that the bridge would prevent large ships from entering the port of Neum, blocking Bosnia's access to the open sea.

Although Bosnia and Croatia share an about 1,000-kilometre-long border, they have never ratified the 1999 border agreement signed by their two former presidents, Alija Izetbegovic and Franjo Tudjman.

The agreement defines the territories of the two countries differently from what maps currently show, stipulating that Croatia is to give Bosnia two small islands and a part of the island of Klek near Neum.

“The official position of the Bosnia and Herzegovina’s presidency adopted on October 17, 2007, reads: ‘Bosnia and Herzegovina opposes the construction of the bridge until the issues related to the determination of the sea border line between the two countries are resolved,’” said Genjac.

“At the same session, Croatia was asked not to undertake any unilateral actions on the construction of the bridge. The president and the prime minister of Croatia were acquainted with these official positions in 2009,” he added.

According to Genjac, who is also an MP in the Bosnian House of Peoples, this position is still in effect today.

He said that according to the country’s Council of Ministers, no official body - the Council of Ministers of the Bosnian presidency - has given its consent for the construction of the bridge.

Genjac accused Croatia of threatening Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territorial waters and its right to access to the open sea.

“The claims that Croatia is building a bridge on its territory are incorrect because the sea waters beneath the Peljesac bridge are not and cannot be Croatian or internal waters, but international waters stretching from the territorial waters of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the open sea,” he argued.

A source from the Bosnian Council of Ministers told BIRN however that experts believe there is virtually no way to stop the project, especially as the European Commission has already approved a 375 million euro to build the bridge.

Genjac said however that a letter will be sent to European parliamentarians seeking assistance for an audit of the European Commission's grant award.

The House of Representatives of Bosnia’s parliament instructed the Council of Ministers on July 5 to send a protest note to Croatia requesting the suspension of all work on the bridge project until an agreement is reached.

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