Two Slovenian nationalist groups on Monday initiated a referendum on neighbouring Croatia's accession to NATO, saying it should not join the alliance in April because of a border row with Slovenia.
The Slovenian parliament endorsed Croatia's NATO accession with a vast majority last week, but this decision would be annulled if its citizens voted against its neighbour joining in a referendum.
Of the 26 NATO states, only the Netherlands and Greece still need to ratify Croatia's accession to enable it to join the alliance.
Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Jandrokovic said a delay in Croatia's NATO membership could hurt security in the region.
"Anything but support to Croatia and ending the ratification process ... would mean playing with vital interests of NATO and with stability of southeast Europe," said Jandrokovic.
Slovenian nationalist groups, The Institute of the 25th of June and the non-parliamentary Party of the Slovenian Nation, need to collect 40,000 signatures from citizens to enforce the referendum.
The groups said they would drop their demand if parliament adopted a law explicitly rejecting any Croatian legislation that could be prejudicial to the 18-year-old territorial dispute.
Parliament is expected to debate the law on Thursday.
Analysts said the referendum was unlikely to go ahead but but the move could delay Croatia's NATO accession as the two groups will have at least five weeks to collect signatures and the process would not finish before the April 3-4 NATO summit.
Slovenia, a member of NATO and the European Union, vetoed Croatia's EU bid in December because of the dispute that has simmered over a sliver of land and Adriatic sea border since the two proclaimed independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor urged citizens not to heed the call for a referendum, saying this could tarnish Slovenia's image.
NATO officials have made clear they wanted to stick to their plan to welcome both Croatia and Albania at the summit.
Last Mod: 17 Şubat 2009, 18:33