Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik on Friday told his ally Serbia he was seriously considering declaring the autonomous Serb Republic independent from the rest of Bosnia unless a row over a property law is resolved.
Dodik’s hardline Serb nationalism and pro-Russian stance have raised concern that Bosnia might fracture again along ethnic lines, a generation after its devastating war.
“We are considering in the most serious terms to bring a decision to declare independence and secede Republika Srpska unless the property issue is solved,” Dodik said.
According to constitution, the national parliament must adopt a property law that would be valid across Bosnia, but Dodik, who is president of the Serb Republic, says that deprives the Serb region in Bosnia of the right to its land, rivers and forests.
Serbia - which was an ally of Bosnian Serbs during the war - considers the peace deal that ended Bosnia’s war crucial to the functioning of the country, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told a joint news conference with Dodik.
“We shall always support anything that all three constitutive peoples agree upon,” Vucic said, referring to Bosnia’s Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks.
The 1995 US-sponsored Dayton peace accords ended nearly four years of war in Bosnia, in which about 100,000 died, by splitting the country into two autonomous regions, the Serb-dominated Serb Republic and the Federation shared by Bosniaks and Croats, linked by a weak central government.
“I think that the president (Vucic) has understood our message very clearly and that Serbia, as the guarantor of the Dayton peace agreement, must take into account all details that are important for the preservation of that agreement,” Dodik said.
During his 25 years in power either as the region’s president or premier, Dodik has acted to strengthen the autonomy of the Serb region.
His regional parliament in December adopted for a second time a law on immovable property that proclaims the Serb Republic as the sole owner of rivers, forests and agricultural land on its territory.
Bosnia’s top court has twice repealed the law.
Legal experts say the problem is not the law, but that the region does not have the authority to pass a law that must be adopted by the national parliament.
Last month, Dodik ordered that Serb officials should halt all contacts and communication with US and UK ambassadors in Bosnia, after they had criticized his inflammatory rhetoric.