Zagreb: Croatian lawmakers decided Wednesday to withdraw from arbitration on a long-running border row with Slovenia after revelations that a Slovenian member of the tribunal tasked with solving the dispute had breached its impartiality.
All 141 lawmakers present in the 151-seat Croatian parliament backed a motion obliging the government to start proceedings towards ending the arbitration because of a "key breach of its provisions by Slovenia".
"The proceedings cannot be continued... There is nothing we could do but quit," Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic told parliament during an extraordinary session held to discuss the crisis.
The international panel was set up to rule on the dispute that has dogged ties since the two countries became independent following the breaking up of Yugoslavia in 1991, but Croatia now says it will not abide by any of its decisions.
The scandal erupted last week after tapped phone conversations surfaced between the tribunal`s Slovenian presiding judge Jernej Sekolec and a Ljubljana official.
In the recordings, the two openly discussed tactics for a ruling favourable to Slovenia. The pair have since resigned.
Zagreb immediately threatened to quit the tribunal and also appealed to the European Union over the affair.
Slovenia announced Tuesday it had appointed the president of the International Court of Justice, France`s Ronny Abraham, to replace Sekolec.
Its Prime Minster Miro Cerar said that with Abraham`s appointment, Ljubljana had fulfilled its "duty and removed all the obstacles for the tribunal to continue working undisturbed".
But Milanovic said Wednesday that Croatia had "nothing to do with whether the arbitration tribunal would continue its work" and that Zagreb would not recognise its decisions.
In 2009, the two former Yugoslav republics signed an EU-backed deal to allow the arbitration tribunal to solve a long-standing dispute over 13 square kilometres (five square miles) of largely uninhabited land on the border as well as Piran Bay.
Each country was asked to propose a member of the five-strong tribunal who would have to be impartial and, therefore, should not discuss its work with their government.
Slovenia, which has just 46 kilometres (29 miles) of coastline, believes its access to international waters is at stake because Croatia, whose coast stretches for 1,700 kilometres, wants the border to be drawn down the middle of the disputed bay.
Earlier this month, the tribunal announced it would make a ruling by December that was to be binding for both countries.
In Brussels, an EU spokeswoman said Monday the European Commission fully supported the work of the panel and voiced confidence that the two sides would respect rules they had accepted for its functioning.