- Associated Press - Thursday, April 26, 2018

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - Serbia on Thursday banned Croatia’s defense minister from entering the country, a tit-for-tat measure against Croatia as tensions mounted between the two Balkan rivals.

Serbia’s government imposed the ban against Croatia’s Damir Krsticevic. Last week, Zagreb said Serbia Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin was not welcome.

A Serbian government statement said the move was a “reciprocity measure,” adding that the Croatian move “is against the good neighborly relations and the respect for the basic European values, which include the freedom of movement.”

“The government of Serbia remains committed to preserving peace and stability in the region and respecting European stands and values, in the interest of the citizens of Serbia and the region,” the statement said.

The spat further strained ties between the former war foes from the 1990s’ bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia. A Croatian delegation earlier this month cut short a visit to Serbia over a far-right incident.

Relations between Serbia and European Union-member Croatia are considered key for stability of the volatile region.

Croatia has said it banned Vulin because he declared that a decision on whether he would attend a Serb-organized World War II commemoration ceremony in Croatia depended on Serbia’s president, rather than Croatia.

Vulin is known for his anti-Croat stands and statements that have fueled tensions in the region.

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