Croatia and Serbia argue over property

ZAGREB (Reuters) – Fifteen years after the collapse of Yugoslavia, unresolved property issues between Croatia and Serbia still hinder good relations and tarnish their attractiveness to investors. Property rights date from Yugoslav times and often involve prime real estate owned by major companies in both countries, which are only now beginning to tackle the issue. «We want good relations, including business, with our neighbors. Our economy is competitive in the region and we want to resolve property issues to fully open space for trade and investments,» Boris Koketi at the Croatian Justice Ministry, which deals with the issue, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday. Most property in socialist Yugoslavia was «socially owned» public property. Publicly owned companies and local authorities from one Yugoslav republic could use property in another republic but were not formally registered as owners. After Croatia’s 1991 independence war against local rebel Serbs, backed by Belgrade, Zagreb passed a law assigning to state care all property in Croatia used by firms from Serbia and Montenegro. It mostly included commercial property and hotels. «The law included 321 of such objects. Since then, only 131 have not been sold or given to certain institutions,» said Vedran Kukavica, the Croatian Privatization Fund’s spokesman. To complicate matters even further, the Serbian government’s property office recently called tenders to sell property in Croatia formerly run by Serbian companies. The tenders caused an uproar in Croatia. Serbian officials were not available for comment while Koketi said Croatia considered the tenders invalid. «Those who may buy such property would not be able to formally register as owners in Croatia,» Koketi said. He said the ministry was preparing for talks with Belgrade on a bilateral agreement about property issues. He could not say when the talks might start, but added the deal must also include Croatian property in Serbia and Montenegro. Croatia has already signed similar agreements with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Slovenia, while the one with Bosnia is near completion.