Croatia, Serbia move closer to dropping genocide suits

Croatia and Serbia have moved closer to a joint withdrawal of lawsuits for genocide as ties between the two former bitter foes gradually improve, officials said Monday.

"We made some important steps which open space for talks on withdrawing the genocide lawsuits," Croatia's Vice Prime Minister Vesna Pusic told reporters after meeting with her Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic.

Pusic referred to a Croatian lawsuit based on the fate of some 1,700 Croatians who are still missing following the country's 1991-95 war of independence between Croatian armed forces and Serbs backed by Belgrade who opposed secession from the former Yugoslavia.

The search for such people was a key condition set by Croatia to the start of talks on withdrawing its genocide suit.

Vucic, the highest ranking Serbian official to visit Croatia, maintained that the genocide suits were also not an "easy issue for Serbia".

He added however: "I hope that we will reach a joint solution. We are open for talks."

In 1999, Croatia filed charges of genocide against Serbia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN's highest tribunal, for Belgrade's role in the war that claimed around 20,000 lives.

Serbia responded with a countersuit in 2010, based on the fate of around 200,000 ethnic Serbs who were forced to flee in 1995 when Zagreb launched a military operation to retake its territory.

Relations between Croatia and Serbia that had gradually improved since the war chilled again last year after newly elected Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic made remarks that infuriated Croatians, and a UN tribunal acquitted two Croatian generals of war crimes against ethnic Serbs.

A visit by Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic to Belgrade in January marked the start of what could become a further easing of tensions between the two sides.