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Serbian PM signals opposition to independence referendum

Friday, June 09, 2006 8:23 AM

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina-Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica sent a clear signal Friday that he does not support calls for an independence referendum in Bosnia's Serb-run ministate during a visit there Friday.

"We did not talk about the referendum," Kostunica said, noting that Serbia stands behind the peace agreement that ended the Bosnian war in 1995, and which foresees "an independent state of Bosnia-Herzegovina made of two parts."

"So, let's respect the agreements the way they are," he added.

Kostunica was accompanied by several of his ministers on the trip, which was announced as the first official visit since his country became independent by default when Montenegro declared independence from the union last weekend.

Immediately after the Montenegrin referendum, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik launched the idea of a similar referendum in the Bosnian Serb ministate.

Independence for the half of Bosnia currently run by ethnic Serbs would create the precondition for it to join up with Serbia, an idea that prompted the brutal 1992-95 Bosnian war.

Right-wing Bosnian Serb extremists immediately organized a petition on the streets of Banja Luka, demanding a referendum. Thousands signed.

Dodik's suggestion was slammed by international officials in Bosnia, who were installed here to make sure the 1995 peace agreement, brokered in Dayton, Ohio, is respected.

"There is no legal basis for a referendum on the status of Republika Srpska," said a statement from the office of Bosnia's top international official, German diplomat Christian Schwarz Schilling.

"The status of Republika Srpska is clear. Republika Srpska is an entity within the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and as such has no jurisdiction to organize a referendum on separation. Any such move would violate the Dayton Peace Agreement."

The 1995 agreement that ended Bosnia's war divided the country along ethnic lines into a Bosnian Serb republic and a federation of Bosniaks and Croats. The two ministates have their own governments but are linked by joint institutions.

During the war, former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's regime supported the Bosnian Serbs in their fight to separate a part of Bosnia and join it to Serbia. For this reason, every official contact between Banja Luka and Belgrade is still closely scrutinized by the rest of the country and by international officials, who fear a renewal of efforts to divide Bosnia.

Serbian Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic fueled the concern a few days ago by telling media that one of the topics for discussion in Banja Luka will be a referendum on the status of Republika Srpska.

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