Serbia and Croatia in border war of words over migrants
Belgrade closed the main Bajakovo-Batrovci crossing at midnight to all trucks with Croatian plates or those transporting goods made in Croatia, its Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic confirmed as he visited border.
In retaliation, Croatia closed the crossing to cars with Serbian plates. Bajakovo-Batrovci was the last of eight frontier crossings that had remained open both to trucks and cars after the dispute flared last week.
Croatia had earlier closed the other seven in a bid to slow the flow of migrants from Serbian territory, with Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic warning Thursday that the restrictions would not be lifted until Belgrade send the migrants straight to Hungary.
“As long as they (Serbia) do not open the path (for migrants) towards Horgos (the main crossing into Hungary), those measures will remain on force,” he said.
The two sides have been exchanging insults rarely heard since the break up of Yugoslavia in 1990s when Croatia and Serbia fought a four-year war that claimed 20,000 lives.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic accused Croatia of having waged “economic aggression against Serbia”, while the foreign ministry lodged a strong protest with the Croatian ambassador in Belgrade.
– ‘Fascist regime’ jibe –
Calling the latest measures by Zagreb “discriminatory”, the ministry said “they could only be compared with measures taken in the past at the time of (Nazi) fascist regime in Croatia” during World War II.
Meanwhile, Croatian premier Zoran Milanovic emphasised that the border traffic was halted due a “deal between Budapest and Belgrade” to send all migrants to Croatia, which he warned could not cope with such large numbers.
All what Belgrade has to do is to “stop such an intensive influx of migrants” to Croatia for the border controls to end, Milanovic told reporters in Zagreb. He said Zagreb could handle only 4,000 to 5,000 migrants daily.
“It cannot go on like this… The solution is very simple, either they (Serbia) should set up (refugee) camps like us or start sending people towards Horgos” on Hungary’s border, he stressed.
On Monday, Croatia blocked trucks coming from Serbia at Bajakovo-Batrovci in a further attempt to pressure Belgrade to redirect the migrant flow towards Hungary and Romania.
On Tuesday, it relented somewhat, letting in trucks with perishable goods — a move that prompted a protest blockade by other freight drivers.
The nearby Tovarnik-Sid border crossing was open for cars and trucks, except for those with Serbian registration plates, the interior ministry said Thursday.
More than 44,000 refugees fleeing conflicts and poverty in their countries in Middle East and Africa entered the Balkan country from Serbia over the last week, with a record 9,000 on Tuesday alone.
Ties between Belgrade and Zagreb gradually improved since the 1991-1995 war, during which Belgrade backed rebel Serbs opposing Croatia’s independence from the former Yugoslavia. But, they remain fragile and became frosty again in recent years due to inflammatory statements from both sides.