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Slovenia Approves Protected Zone in Adriatic

Slovenia Approves Protected Zone in Adriatic
LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's parliament approved the setting up of a protected zone in the northern Adriatic on Tuesday in a move that heightened tensions with neighbouring Croatia, which has opposed the zone.

"The aim of this law is to protect sovereign rights of the Republic of Slovenia on the open sea," Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel told parliament before the vote.

He said Slovenia would aim for "a constructive dialogue with Croatia and Italy and work towards solving all questions regarding the Adriatic Sea with consensus".

The zone, which includes responsibilities for pollution control and the right to exploit maritime resources, was approved by 62 deputies against one.

Croatia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement it saw the Slovenian move as legally void and unfounded. Foreign Minister Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic suggested international arbitration to resolve the border dispute, the statement said.

Slovenia says it resorted to the measure after Croatia and Italy, which share the largest part of the Adriatic, agreed a demarcation of territorial waters without consulting Ljubljana.

Slovenia's cabinet announced the measure in August but Croatia dismissed it as 'territorial pretension', saying it encroached on Croatian waters.

Zagreb recalled its ambassador from Ljubljana for urgent consultations, sending relations to a new low.

Croatia claimed a similar protected zone in the Adriatic in 2003, saying it wanted to put fishing and pollution under better control.

It exempted European Union countries from the new regime after protests from Slovenia and Italy but government officials indicated recently they might reintroduce the ban for Slovenia if it went ahead with its own plan.

Croatia and Slovenia, which declared independence from socialist Yugoslavia in 1991, have a number of border issues that hurt relations, including a disputed border in the Piran Bay, Slovenia's only access to international shipping waters.

Slovenia was among the 10 countries that joined the EU in May 2004 and Croatia opened membership talks on Tuesday, hoping to complete them by 2009. Some observers say Slovenia may bring up the border issue in Croatia's negotiations with the bloc.

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