Second judge quits Slovenia-Croatia border tribunal as crisis deepens

Ljubljana (AFP) - A top judge has resigned from the tribunal tasked with solving a border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia just a week after he was appointed, officials said Wednesday, in the latest sign that the court faces internal turmoil.

The president of the International Court of Justice, Ronny Abraham, had replaced Slovenian judge Jernej Sekolec who was forced to quit in late July over tapped phone conversations between him and a Ljubljana official discussing tactics for a ruling favourable to Slovenia.

French judge Abraham had accepted the role to help restore confidence between parties and the tribunal, the court said in a statement.

"Having realised that the current situation cannot meet that expectation, judge Abraham considered that it was no longer appropriate for him to serve as arbitrator," the court said, adding that Slovenia had 15 days to find a successor.

Last week, Croatia's arbitrator quit in protest over the phone-tapping revelations, with Slovenia's Prime Minister Miro Cerar accusing the tribunal of having become "contaminated".

Each country was asked to propose a member of the five-member tribunal who would have to be impartial and, therefore, should not discuss the tribunal's work with their government.

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 and the Piran Bay in the northern Adriatic.

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.

Last month the arbitration tribunal announced it would decide on the dispute by December. That decision was to be binding for both countries.

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