Kristen Saloomey reports on ethnic tensions deepening Bosnia's political crisis.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is facing its most serious crisis since it was established as a state 15 years ago, the international representative for the country has warned, accusing Bosnian Serb officials of threatening its viability.
In a regular report to the United Nations, Valentin Inzko, an Austrian diplomat who represents Bosnia, accused Bosnian Serb authorities of engaging in "concrete actions which represent the most serious violation of [the 1995 the Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian war] that we have seen since the agreement was signed".
The peace accord divided the country into two: a separatist Bosnian Serb Republic, known as Republika Srpska, and a Muslim-Croat federation.
The Bosnian Serb parliament's latest challenge to Bosnia's central authority was to back plans last month for a referendum that questions the legality of Bosnia's national court. Bosnian Serb officials say the court, which prosecutes suspects of war crimes, is biased against Serbians.
The referendum, expected to take place in mid-June, would also deal with the authority of Inzko, who as the international "high representative" of the Balkan state holds the power to fire officials and veto laws.
Inzko demanded that the Republika Srpska drop plans for the referendum, terming it a "blatant attack" on the peace agreement.
"Should this not happen ... I will have no choice but to repeal the ... referendum decision," he said, setting a deadline of the end of this week.
In an unusually hard-hitting speech, the normally low-key Inzko also said that Bosnia's bid to join the European Union and NATO had "come to a complete halt".
He said the Republika Srpska, and especially president Milorad Dodik, had "continued openly to question the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia".
Dodik had earlier said that Bosnian Serbs would rather see Bosnia walk away from its bid to join the EU if it meant that more power would have to be transferred from regional to federal institutions.
He said that even though seven months had passed since general elections, the formation of a state government was "almost impossible" and that political parties had "continued to play zero-sum politics". He said there was no indication that this would change.
The UN Security Council took no immediate action on the report, but Western countries said they would back the international envoy in whatever action he deemed fit.
Rosemary DiCarlo, the US deputy permanement representative to the UN, said, without elaborating, that Washington was "in the process of considering our own measures in support of Dayton and Bosnian state institutions, should they become necessary."
Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the UN, however, criticised the speech as "emotional" and said that the referendum did not directly violate the Dayton peace accord. He said the Bosnian political crisis was caused by Muslims and by Inzko, who he accused of making "arbitrary use" of his powers.
Inzko said that the international community's intervention was still required in Bosnia.
"The need for an international presence, both civilian and military, with an executive mandate is still evident," he said.
"The entire international community must take the deteriorating situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina very seriously. Further erosion of the state, its institutions and the rule of law will push Bosnia and Herzegovina into deeper crisis and instability. This could also have negative consequences for the entire region."
Bosnian Serbs, however, wrote to Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, over the weekend claiming that Inzko was trying to "deceive" the UN with the report, and accused him of misusing his powers.
"The continued abuse of power by the High Representative, a rule based on autocratic decisions ... cannot be further tolerated," the letter to Ban stated.
Feodor Starcevic, Serbia's ambassador to the UN, told the council that the referendum had nothing to do with the territorial integrity of the country and was not in contravention of Dayton peace accords.
He added that Belgrade did not intend to interfere in Bosnia's internal affairs.
Al Jazeera's Kristen Saloomey, reporting from the UN's headquarters in New York, said that the proposed referendum was being seen as "essentially a kind of vote of no-confidence in these federal institutions, particularly the war crimes court, which many [Bosnian] Serbs feel is biased against the [Bosnian] Serbs, because most of the prosecutions have been against [Bosnian] Serbs. So that is the backdrop to these increasing tensions which were discussed".
"The language, with tensions at an all-time high [since the peace accords], has gotten increasingly hostile towards international efforts to form a unity government. In particular, [Republika Srpska president] Milorad Dodik has been very outspoken against these international efforts," she said.