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Arbitration panel grants Slovenia access to high seas

Associated Press logo Associated Press 29/06/2017 By MIKE CORDER, Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — An international arbitration panel on Thursday granted Slovenia unhindered access to the high seas for the first time since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia as part of a ruling aimed at settling a long-running territorial dispute between Slovenia and Balkan neighbor Croatia.

It remains to be seen if the ruling can be enforced. Croatia walked out of the arbitration in 2015 and does not recognize the panel's findings.

"We do not consider ourselves obliged by this ruling," Croatian TV quoted Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic as saying. "And we do not intend to implement its content."

The five-judge tribunal granted Slovenia much of the Bay of Piran, off the Adriatic coasts of the two countries, and gave Slovenia a 2.5-nautical-mile wide, 10-nautical-mile long "junction" or corridor linking its territorial waters and international waters.

The panel's president, Judge Gilbert Guillaume, said the junction allows "uninterrupted and uninterruptable" access for ships and aircraft of all nationalities between international waters and Slovenia's territorial waters.

Slovenia's Prime Minister Miro Cerar described the ruling as "historic" and called for its implementation, but he said it did not meet all of the country's expectations.

"The ruling will be respected." Cerar said. "The ruling is final and obligatory for both states, Slovenia and Croatia."

The panel also established Slovenia and Croatia's land border, but very little of that remained in dispute.

Arbitration was supposed to ease tensions between the Balkan neighbors but instead underscored sensitivities between states that emerged from the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

The two countries agreed to arbitration in 2009 in a deal that also led to Slovenia dropping its opposition to Croatia's European Union membership.

Croatia turned its back on the arbitration following revelations that the Slovenian judge on the panel had violated its rules. The court ruled last year that the violations did not entitle Croatia to terminate arbitration or affect the panel's power "to render a final award independently and impartially."

The arbitration panel left open the door to more talks, saying that "the rights and obligations of Croatia and Slovenia established by this award shall subsist until they are modified by agreement between those two states."

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Associated Press writers Jovana Gec in Belgrade and Ali Zerdin in Ljubljana, Slovenia, contributed.

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