Friday, 5 April 2019

Bosnian Police Step Up Control to Deter Illegal Migrants from Coming to Croatia

ZAGREB, April 5, 2019 - Una-Sana Canton police in Bosnia and Herzegovina are stepping up measures aimed at preventing the arrival of new illegal migrants to that part of the country, thus preventing them from crossing the border into Croatia and continuing their journey to other EU countries, a police source in Bihać confirmed on Friday.

Police spokesman Ale Siljdedić said that in the early hours of Friday, the police stopped a train at the entity border that was travelling from Sarajevo and found about one hundred migrants on board and prevented them from continuing their journey toward Bihać.

"We are following instructions from the cantonal task force responsible for controlling and managing the migrant crisis because reception centres in Bihać, Cazin and Velika Kladuša can no longer take in any more migrants so we are preventing migrants and refugees from entering the canton," Siljdedić was cited as saying by the Fena news agency.

According to Siljdedić, this has been going on a daily basis because for weeks at least 50 to 100 migrants a day who enter Bosnia and Herzegovina from Serbia and Montenegro, attempt to get to Una-Sana canton.

Migrants found by the police are returned to those places from where they headed out toward Bihać.

The police in the Republika Srpska entity are implementing similar measures. They are regularly inspecting trains coming from Sarajevo and travelling to Bihać and are preventing passengers who are identified as illegal migrants from disembarking in Banja Luka.

According to the latest information submitted by police agencies to the country's government, slightly more than 3,800 migrants have illegally entered Bosnia and Herzegovina since the beginning of the year.

More news about migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Bosnia Drops Investigation of “Croatian Spying Scandal”

ZAGREB, April 4, 2019 - Prosecutors in Bosnia and Herzegovina will not investigate persons named in an alleged intelligence scandal, which some of the local media and the security minister linked to Croatia's Security and Intelligence Agency (SOA), but will continue "working on the case", the Prosecutor's Office in Sarajevo confirmed in a statement on Wednesday.

"The Bosnia and Herzegovina Prosecutor's Office decided not to investigate the Deputy Minister of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina Mijo Krešić, the journalist Mate Đaković and the General Consul of Croatia in Tuzla, Ivan Bandić," the statement emailed to Hina said.

The statement said that the decision was made based on inquiries after the news website said that Krešić, Đaković and Bandić were involved in illegal activities connected with the recruitment of Bosnian nationals close to radical Islamist circles in that country.

After the opening of the investigation, investigators interviewed Đaković, Krešić, the journalist Avdo Avdić, who ran the story, Minister Mektić, and a person identified only by their initials C. H., whom SOA agents reportedly attempted to recruit. Also interviewed was one Midhat Hasanspahić and the chief of Bosnia and Herzegovina's Intelligence and Security Agency (OSA), Osman Mehmedagić.

"None of the witnesses heard, except Avdo Avdić who was not questioned about the affair because there are legal obstacles to his questioning, presented any knowledge of the involvement of the three persons in those activities," the Prosecutor's Office said in the statement.

Police agencies have told the Prosecutor's Office that they have no information about the activities reported by The website said that SOA agents were recruiting members of the Salafi movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina to plant weapons in their communities which were later to be used as evidence that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a stronghold of a large number of dangerous radical Islamists.

The Council of Ministers and the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina had no such information either, the Prosecutor's Office said.

It noted, however, that some other questions had emerged during the inquiries, namely who were the persons who identified themselves as agents of security and intelligence agencies of other countries. The Prosecutor's Office will look into this matter in cooperation with the authorities in Croatia and Slovenia.

The statement said that the evidence and witness statements showed that the Ministry of Security did not have official information on the claims made in the Žurnal report at the time when Minister Mektić publicly confirmed their veracity.

"The Prosecutor's Office will continue working on the case," the statement said.

More news about relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in the Politics section.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

President Meets with Croats from Bosnia and Herzegovina

ZAGREB, March 24, 2019 - Croats are the oldest constituent people in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and one of the pillars of the modern Croatian state, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said on Saturday at Open Day for Croats from Bosnia and Herzegovina in her office.

"You are not guests, newcomers or an ethnic minority in BiH but its oldest constituent people which wants nothing more than peace and equality as the other two peoples in the common homeland of BiH," she said, adding that BiH is not a state of one but three constituent peoples, which has been "a fact in BiH for decades and centuries."

This fact "guarantees your constitutional rights and we have the duty to defend, interpret and promote that fact," she said. "That is the threshold of your constitutionality and equality, and there is no retreating from that threshold. Together with you on that threshold stands Croatia."

Grabar-Kitarović said Croats in BiH had the right to elect political representatives who would "legitimately represent them at all government levels," as well as the right to ethnic, cultural, educational and media institutions and the right to the equal use of the Croatian language. In demanding those rights, Croats demand "nothing more than others" and that is the best way to preserve BiH as a state and that is how European values are built into BiH, she added.

She went on to say that BiH Croats, along with their "fellowmen and all patriots in Croatia" and expatriates, "are one the pillars of the modern Croatian state and our victory in the Homeland War."

The president said her meeting with Croats from BiH was "an expression of the continuity of the policy of building national unity" as set out by Croatia's first president, Franjo Tuđman. "Not just you Croats who live in BiH as its native people, but also Croats who emigrated from BiH as well as those who emigrated from Croatia are part of the indivisible Croatian being."

She called for the establishment of mechanisms for connecting Croats in Croatia, BiH and abroad so as to make it possible to put all "national resources to use for demographic renewal and survival in our homelands, the boosting of our economy, and political and cultural recognition in the world."

"That's the goal of my policy, Croatian unity and a strong Croatia which will be also your safe support and a good neighbour," Grabar-Kitarovic said.

BiH is the Croatian people's second homeland and Croats have been present in BiH more than a thousand years as well as "having done everything for the survival of BiH as a state," she added.

The president said Croatia had made "the biggest possible political and military contribution" to BiH's defence and survival, and that BiH Croats voted for BiH's independence at a 1992 referendum and agreed to the creation of the Federation entity to contribute to "cooperation, peace and trust."

She said Croatia had provided for hundreds of thousands of displaced persons from BiH during the 1990s war, "without looking at their faith or ethnicity", and that it had facilitated humanitarian aid and "the armament of all defence forces." Some in BiH forget or suppress that, she added.

Grabar-Kitarović pushed for more intensive accession negotiations between the EU and BiH, provided that Croats are an equal people. The EU needs BiH and its accession would be of great political, cultural and security value, she said.

The EU and other influential international stakeholders "will make a big mistake with unforeseen consequences" if they do not back BiH's European journey, she added. "The journey isn't simple, but we want to and are willing to help, and you Croats in BiH are the guarantee that the end goal can be achieved."

Banja Luka bishop Franjo Komarica told Hina that only a few Croats remained in the Bosnian Serb entity and called on Croatia's state leadership to help those wishing to stay and those wishing to return there. Four thousand families wish to return, he said.

More news about Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in the Diaspora section.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Bosnia and Croatia At Odds Over Radioactive Waste Disposal

ZAGREB, March 22, 2019 - The Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina on Friday decided to ask Croatian authorities to give up their plan to build a radioactive waste storage site at Trgovska Gora, near Dvor, a town on the River Una on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, announcing that it would internationalise the problem in order to protect the country's interests.

"Bosnia and Herzegovina is asking the Republic of Croatia not to designate Trgovska Gora, a location in the municipality of Dvor, on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the storage of radioactive and nuclear waste and to find on its territory another adequate location for that purpose, which is not near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina," reads a conclusion adopted by the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina on Friday.

A press release said Presidency Chairman Milorad Dodik would send a letter to Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović to formally inform her of Bosnia and Herzegovina's request.

The Presidency also entrusted the Foreign Ministry to inform through its diplomatic and consular network EU member states and international organisations specialising in environmental protection of the issue and of Bosnia and Herzegovina's position.

Trgovska Gora, that is, the former Čerkezovac barracks located there, is one of the sites that are being considered as a location for the disposal of radioactive waste from the Krško nuclear power plant, which Croatia owns and operates with Slovenia.

Croatia's national programme for the implementation of a strategy for the management of radioactive waste has been submitted to the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM), which is expected to evaluate it, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is seeking guarantees that the programme will not have a negative impact on the country.

Bosnia and Herzegovina municipalities that are located on the border with Croatia and gravitate towards the River Una fear that radioactive waste from Trgovska Gora would pollute the environment on both sides of the border and harm the health of local residents.

More news on the relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 22 March 2019

SOA Chief Hopes Accusations of Espionage to Be Clarified with Bosnia

ZAGREB, March 22, 2019 - After a three-hour session of the Croatian parliament's Home Affairs and National Security Committee, which discussed and adopted security services' reports for 2018, Security-Intelligence Agency (SOA) head Daniel Markić told reporters that he believed that he would clarify, together with the leadership of Bosnia and Herzegovina's security-intelligence agency OSA, accusations that Croatian agents had recruited and armed radical Islamists in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Markić resolutely dismissed the accusations by Bosnia and Herzegovina Security Minister Dragan Mektić that SOA had recruited members of the Salafi movement to plant weapons in Muslim places of worship so that they could be discovered by police following tip-offs as evidence of Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović's earlier claims about thousands of radical Islamists in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"It is interesting, even shocking what is going on in Bosnia and Herzegovina.... So far, we have cooperated in the fight against terrorism with OSA, and SOA has only one interlocutor in Bosnia and Herzegovina - OSA... I hope we will clarify the matter," Markić told reporters.

He dismissed accusations that Croatian services had recruited and armed radical Islamists in Bosnia and Herzegovina. "That definitely did not happen and I dismiss the accusations. SOA has naturally talked with those people and will continue to talk with them for the sake of our own and our neighbours' security, and the security of the EU and NATO," he said.

"We pointed to a person that was suspicious and said what that person was doing. We talked with H.C., we know who it is, and we informed the partner agency in Bosnia and Herzegovina about it.

"We received a clear answer from OSA but I leave it to them to comment," he said, declining to reveal OSA's answer and noting that he was willing to declassify SOA's findings if necessary.

He also dismissed accusations that SOA had sought cooperation from a number of persons in Croatia, threatening to deport them to Bosnia and Herzegovina if they refused.

Markić said that he would not meet with Mektić, who is in Zagreb for medical treatment. "We do not cooperate with Mr Mektić, he does not seem to have control over the intelligence community in Bosnia and Herzegovina," he said, adding that he was worried by the return of people who had fought on ISIL's side to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

SOA estimates that around 1,000 Bosnia and Herzegovina nationals have fought on the side of ISIL. "Maybe 35% of them have returned, 30% have possibly been killed but we will check everything with our partners," said Markić.

Speaking of a recent terror attack on New Zealand, Markić said that there was no need to fear far-right radicalism in Croatia. "I don't believe that scene is active here," he said.

Regarding information that the killer from New Zealand had stayed in Croatia, Markić said that Croatian services cooperated with New Zealand's services and were exchanging information. "We do not, however, have any information that could indicate that he was involved in any negative activities in Croatia or that he had contacts that could have indicated what he would do," said Markić.

He added that SOA would publish by the end of the month a report with an overview of its activities and assessments for the future.

The chair of the Home Affairs and National Security Committee, Social Democrat Ranko Ostojić, said that all Committee members asked SOA officials very concrete questions to which they were given concrete answers and that they were satisfied with the information obtained.

As for the intelligence problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ostojić said that he would ask OSA for its position on the matter. "Markić was very specific and said that he still had not received any answer from the partner service, so I cannot comment for now.... Those who fail to provide arguments (for their claims) have a serious problem," he said, adding that the accusations coming from Bosnia and Herzegovina had been made for daily political purposes.

The government of Bosnia and Herzegovina on Thursday did not discuss, contrary to earlier announcements, the alleged espionage scandal and accusations that Croatian intelligence agents had recruited members of the Salafi movement in the country to plant weapons in some of the Muslim places of worship in Zenica-Doboj Canton.

Prime Minister Denis Zvizdić did not offer an explanation as to why a report on the matter had not been submitted by Security Minister Mektić.

A week ago, Mektić accused his deputy Mijo Krešić, the Croatian consul in Tuzla, Ivan Bandić, and Serb entity RTRS public broadcaster reporter Mato Đaković of bribing members of the Salafi movement to hide weapons in some places of worship so that they could be later found by the country's police agencies and serve as evidence that radicals were arming themselves and threatening the country's security.

Zvizdić spoke of the importance of the return and prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina nationals currently fighting or imprisoned in Syria. "Considering unfair speculation about thousands of radical fighters in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I have to say that in the last three years there were no departures of Bosnia and Herzegovina nationals to battlefields abroad. There are currently 102 Bosnia and Herzegovina nationals in Syria, of whom 54 are men and 48 are women," he said.

"If we have to, we will return them and prosecute them. We are controlling the situation and dismiss speculation that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a terrorist hotbed," said Zvizdić.

After a session of the Intelligence-Security Committee (OSO) today, Zvizdić's deputy Vjekoslav Bevanda called for supervision of OSA's work and for putting an end to media affairs such as the one on the alleged recruitment of radical Islamists by SOA.

Bevanda said in a statement that acts by individual members of the government were unacceptable, an evident allusion to Mektić.

He also said that recurrent intelligence affairs were worrying and that they were mostly directed against neighbouring countries. "I don't believe that it will lead to regional cooperation or good foreign or internal relations," Bevanda said after the session of OSO, a government body comprising the most senior government officials, which was also attended by OSA head Osman Mehmedagić but not by Mektić.

More news about relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Croatian PM Reiterates That Bosnia Security Minister's Claims Are Nonsense

ZAGREB, March 15, 2019 - Croatian PM Andrej Plenković reiterated on Friday that Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektić's accusations, that Croatian intelligence agents had been part of a covert operation aimed at showing that armed group of radical Islamists were active in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), were "nonsense" and "manipulation".

Mektić made the accusations on Wednesday, saying the operation was intended to justify Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović's earlier claims that thousands of Islamic extremists in BiH pose a threat to regional security.

Mektić’s statements, "aside from the words 'nonsense', 'manipulation' and 'ill-intentioned claim', deserve no other additional or further comment," Plenković said at a cabinet meeting. "Croatia is a member of NATO and the European Union, a country which, together with other partners, is engaged in the fight against terrorism and, in that respect, will continue to cooperate with all the countries in its neighbourhood, including BiH, in a responsible manner," he added.

Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektić gave a statement to the State Prosecutor's Office on Friday as part of an investigation into his accusations that Croatian intelligence agents had recruited Bosnian citizens to plant weapons in Islamic places of worship in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

Mektić told reporters later he maintained this information was correct and that the covert operation was not completed because it was uncovered and prevented by BiH's Intelligence and Security Agency (OSA). He said part of OSA's job was to "foil any attempt by a foreign intelligence service to infiltrate BiH."

Commenting on the resolute dismissal by Croatia's Security and Intelligence Agency (SOA) of the accusations against it coming from BiH, Mektić said SOA was entitled to defend itself but that its denials should not be trusted.

Asked what he expected the BiH State Prosecutor's Office to do as part of the probe launched yesterday, Mektić said he did not know, yet that he expected nothing as he had no confidence in the Office and its prosecutors.

"Anything can be expected of them, but the only thing that can't be expected of them is to really fight against such problems," he said, adding that launching the probe was just a cover for an attempt to "protect relatives and friends and save someone's reputation."

More news on the relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Bosnia to Investigate Reports of Croatian Intelligence Scandal

ZAGREB, March 15, 2019 - The Croat member of Bosnia and Herzegovina's tripartite presidency, Željko Komšić, said on Thursday that the country's security and intelligence agencies would be ordered to thoroughly investigate media reports that Croatian intelligence agents had allegedly tried to portray Bosnia and Herzegovina as a regional terrorist base, adding that appropriate steps would be taken if the reports proved to be true.

Commenting on media reports that Croatian intelligence agents had tried to recruit members of the radical Islamic Salafi movement to plant weapons in Islamic places of worship, which would then be used as evidence for claims that Bosnia and Herzegovina has become a stronghold of radical Islamists, and that Croatian diplomats were involved in this, Komšić said that only misinformed people could think that in today's world diplomats only dealt with development and promotion of diplomatic relations.

He said, however, that "a red line" should clearly be drawn to make it clear what is acceptable and what is not.

"Even in such activities there is a red line that must not be crossed. Today's visit by Andrej Plenković, the Prime Minister of Croatia, to Neum where a so-called political and scientific symposium was organised on the subject of amending the Bosnia and Herzegovina Constitution, still did not cross the red line although it showed a great lack of manners," Komšić said, without elaborating.

Komšić said that Bosnia and Herzegovina's police and intelligence services would thoroughly investigate the alleged armament of radical Islamists in the country by Croatian intelligence agents.

"If these allegations are confirmed as well-founded, Bosnia and Herzegovina will take the necessary measures without delay," Komšić said in a written statement.

More news about relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Croatia Rejects Claims of Espionage Affair in Bosnia and Herzegovina

ZAGREB, March 14, 2019 - Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on Thursday said that an alleged espionage scandal, according to which Croatian intelligence agents and Croatian diplomats recruited radical Islamist groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to confirm claims by the authorities in Zagreb that thousands of extremists were hiding in BiH, was "nonsense and creative manipulation".

"This is creative manipulation. SOA (Croatia's intelligence agency) has already released a statement and entirely rejected those insinuations. That is nonsense that I wholly reject," Plenković said in Neum, where he attended a meeting on changes to Bosnia and Herzegovina's constitution.

According to him, it is even bigger nonsense to claim that Croatian diplomats were involved in the alleged espionage scandal. "They are here to do their job and not to be involved in anything else. I reject both claims," the prime minister said.

Plenković underscored that Croatia is combating terrorism and that it is cooperating with Bosnia and Herzegovina in that fight, considering it a partner. "Our entire cooperation with bodies in Bosnia and Herzegovina that deal with this issue, notably anti-terrorist activities and information exchange, is regular and permanent. As far as I know, our agency requested the Bosnia and Herzegovina side to give its opinion on these allegations so that we get a broader picture," Plenković said.

Leader of the HDZ BH party Dragan Čović also commented on the affair, which allegedly involves a senior official of that party, Mijo Krešić, the deputy of Bosnia's Security Minister Dragan Mektić, who has publicly confirmed the allegations. Čović described the affair as activities launched by para-structures in Bosnia and Herzegovina and announced an investigation. "This is an insult to reason, just as the interpretation of events in parliament regarding the condemnation of the Chetnik gathering in Višegrad is insulting," Čović said. He added that numerous events in fact show that numerous illegal structures exist in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"We have to be concerned about the existence of such groups, whether the one in Višegrad or elsewhere, but also about persons infiltrated in Bosnian institutions who are making up such things. We want those responsible to be called out but we are also aware that they won't be," Čović said.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović's office said on Thursday it had no intention of commenting on the "petty political fabrications" by Bosnia and Herzegovina's security minister, while the Croatian Foreign Ministry said those claims were aimed at undermining the two countries' successful cooperation.

Grabar-Kitarović's office said it "has no intention at all of commenting on these ill-intentioned, entirely unfounded and petty political fabrications."

The Foreign Ministry said that "the entirely unfounded and extremely tendentious claims are evidently aimed at compromising the successful cooperation between the two states in the fight against terrorism and at negatively impacting the further development of overall relations between Croatia and BiH as two neighbourly and friendly states."

Croatia, as a member of the UN, EU, NATO and the Council of Europe, remains fully committed to the prevention of terrorism, in which it will continue to cooperate with its neighbours and international partners, the ministry added.

Croatia's Security and Intelligence Agency (SOA) on Thursday dismissed as "untrue and malicious" the claims by Bosnia and Herzegovina's Security Minister Dragan Mektić that SOA had tried to recruit members of the radical Islamic Salafi movement to transfer weapons and explosives in Bosnia and Herzegovina, adding that Croatia was thus accused of aiding and abetting terrorism.

"The fight against terrorism is SOA's priority. We carry out all our anti-terrorism tasks professionally and responsibly with the aim of protecting Croatia, our EU and NATO allies and the whole of Europe," SOA said in a statement emailed to Hina.

"We believe that any political instrumentalisation of the fight against terrorism and of Bosnia and Herzegovina's intelligence community poses a serious risk to the security of Croatia, the EU, NATO and in particular Bosnia and Herzegovina itself," SOA said.

SOA has formally asked Bosnia and Herzegovina's Intelligence and Security Agency (OSA) to declare its position on these false allegations, adding that it will inform its international partners of the matter.

More news about the relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Bosnian Security Minister Claims Secret Croatian Intelligence Operation Foiled

ZAGREB, March 14, 2019 - Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektić said on Wednesday that "Croatian intelligence agents" had been involved in a secret operation designed to show that armed groups of Islamic extremists were active in Bosnia and Herzegovina and thus justify earlier statements by Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović that there were thousands of Islamic extremists in Bosnia and Herzegovina who posed a threat to regional security.

Mektić said the persons directly involved in those activities were Croatia's consul-general in Tuzla, Ivan Bandić, and Republika Srpska Radio-Television reporter Mato Đaković, who is known as a person close to Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency chair Milorad Dodik.

"Over the past few years we have obtained information that the Croatian intelligence service has been working on recruiting our citizens... Croatia's consul in Tuzla, Ivan Bandić, and a number of other people were recruited for an intelligence operation regarding the armament of the local Salafis," Mektić was quoted by the Sarajevo-based news website Faktor as saying.

The minister gave the statement after another news website, Žurnal, earlier in the day ran an intricate story describing how Croatian intelligence agents threatened some Bosnia and Herzegovina nationals into taking weapons to Muslim places of worship in the country, which was then to be reported to police and the reports would have served as proof for claims about the danger of Islamic extremism.

Žurnal said that along with consul Bandić, also involved in the alleged operation was Deputy Security Minister Mijo Krešić of the Croat HDZ BiH party, recalling Krešić's repeated statements about numerous groups of Islamic extremists in Bosnia and Herzegovina numbering thousands of members.

The news website says reporter Mato Đaković acted as a linkman with the Bosnian Serb entity authorities which are also interested in exploiting theories about the danger of Islamic radicals in Bosnia and Herzegovina, offering as proof of Đaković's connection with consul Bandić his having used the consul's official car in Tuzla under suspicious circumstances.

Đaković allegedly saw to it that persons recruited by Croatian intelligence agents in the Serb entity took over the weapons.

Security Minister Mektić said that those allegations were true. "We followed the activities for a while... and foiled them. The person involved was reporter Mato Đaković, who even used Ivan Bandić's diplomatic vehicle for that purpose," Mektić said, adding that the entire intelligence operation was aimed at "brutally discrediting Bosnia and Herzegovina" and proving claims by the Croatian president that Bosnia and Herzegovina was a country where terrorist camps exist.

More news about relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Svilaj Bridge Between Croatia and Bosnia to Be Opened in Autumn

ZAGREB, March 1, 2019 - The Svilaj bridge across the Sava River along the Vc pan-European road corridor, which is being built by Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, is expected to be completed this autumn, Croatian Transport Minister Oleg Butković said at the construction site on Thursday.

Butković said that the 22.3 million euro highway bridge was one of the most important infrastructure projects currently underway in Croatia. The project is financed by Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 50:50 ratio, and the Croatian part is co-financed from EU funds.

"This bridge is of the utmost importance for the two countries and aside from connecting them, it will connect Budapest with (the southern Croatian port of) Ploče, which is what we want," said Butković.

The Croatian Roads road construction and maintenance operator has published a tender for the construction of a highway section to run towards Beli Manastir, close to the border with Hungary, and the bids will be opened in March, said the minister.

Asked why the construction of the 33-kilometre section from Osijek to Beli Manastir was taking so long, he said that the necessary funding had to be secured first.

He said that once the Svilaj bridge was completed and work on the highway to Beli Manastir was finished, which was expected in two years' time, a five-kilometre section towards the Hungarian border, currently being designed, would remain to be built as part of the Croatian section of the Vc corridor.

Bosnia and Herzegovina Deputy Communications and Transport Minister Saša Dalipagić said that the bridge at Svilaj was of huge importance for Bosnia and Herzegovina, notably for people living in the area gravitating towards Svilaj and Odzak. "Our two friendly and neighbouring countries are now connected at this location as well, and that pleases us the most," said Dalipagić.

He admitted that Bosnia and Herzegovina had been late in building its section of the Vc corridor because it had not had the necessary strategic documents, such as a framework transport policy or transport strategy.

He also said that the most important issue, the financing of construction work on the Bosnia and Herzegovina section of the corridor, had not been solved.

Dalipagić would not forecast when the section of the corridor running through Bosnia and Herzegovina could be completed, saying only, "You are aware of the reality in Bosnia and Herzegovina."

The Svilaj bridge is 660 metres long and 18 metres high. Once the bridge is completed, the Croatian section of the Vc corridor will be 59 kilometres long, said Croatian Highways CEO Boris Huzjan.

Work on the bridge started in September 2016. Croatia has built a highway to the bridge while work in Bosnia and Herzegovina on the section from the bridge to Odzak, a municipality in the northeast of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is expected to be completed at the same time as the bridge.

More news on the relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in the Politics section.

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