Bosnian Serbs have again threatened to secede in a bid to rid Bosnia and Herzegovina’s top court of foreign judges, risking another political crisis and raising concerns among the international community.
The parliament in Republika Srpska – which shares some central institutions with the Bosniak-Croat Federation – on Monday gave a 60-day deadline for reform of Bosnia’s Constitutional Court.
“Goodbye Bosnia, welcome RS-exit,” said Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of Bosnia’s joint presidency. “We will see each other in 60 days.”
Three foreign judges serve on the court along with two Croats, two Bosniaks and two Serbs – a legacy of the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the 1992-95 war and divided Bosnia along ethnic lines.
The court decided earlier this month that unclaimed agricultural land was automatically the property of the central Bosnian state rather than Republika Srpska – contradicting Bosnian Serb law.
“Serbs are frustrated over constant efforts aimed at destroying their identity,” Republika Srpska President Zeljka Cvijanovic told the MPs.
In recent days, Dodik has repeatedly voiced his ambition to organise a referendum on Republika Srpska independence – to secede from the rest of Bosnia, saying Bosnian Serbs should decide their future.
Sections of the international community have reacted to Dodik’s remarks, throwing their support behind Bosnia.
“NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo is helping in the reforms of the defence and security structures in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We remain committed to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s progress in the reforms it has chosen,” NATO said in a statement sent to Al Jazeera.
Valentin Inzko, the high representative for the implementation of the Peace Agreement for Bosnia and Herzegovina, said he was convinced a referendum on secession would not take place, nor would it have legal validity.
“We will insist that the Dayton Treaty is respected. Dayton guarantees the sovereignty and integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Under the Dayton Agreement, entities have no right to secede,” Inzko told N1, a regional 24-hour news channel.
“Secession would mean crossing a red line,” Inko continued. “We should not forget that Bosnia and Herzegovina was admitted to the United Nations as a country in 1992, together with Slovenia and Croatia. They were all admitted to the UN on the same day, and that is the pillar and foundation for Bosnia and Herzegovina. [Some of the] internal borders have changed within the limits of the Dayton [Peace Agreement], but only the internal ones.”
On the weekend, commenting on the court decision, Dodik said: “The red line was crossed.”
Dodik accused the West of contributing to efforts by Bosniaks “to choke Republika Srpska” and said he would be “even more convinced” after 60 days that Republika Srpska needed to secede.
Bosnia’s 1992-95 war between its Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs killed some 100,000 people.
Although the settlement that ended the war is largely intact, Bosnia is plagued by instability, divisions and political crises – politicians took more than a year to agree on a government after the last election.