BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — The Bosnian Serb parliament convened on Friday to vote on a set of steps that would weaken the war-ravaged Balkan country’s central authority as their leader steps up his secession campaign despite a threat of new U.S. and other sanctions.
The lawmakers are expected to vote on starting a procedure for Bosnian Serbs to withdraw from the Bosnian army, security services, tax system and judiciary. That would be another substantial move following repeated threats by Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik to secede about a half of Bosnia and join neighboring Serbia.
Dodik, the Bosnian Serb member of the tripartite Bosnian presidency, called Friday’s parliament session a historic one that he said would strengthen the Bosnian Serb mini state — formed as part of a U.S.-sponsored peace agreement that ended the Bosnian war in 1995.
Opposition leaders in the parliament criticized Dodik’s policies, saying they are hasty, bring back uncertainty and even possible clashes to the still-volatile Balkan region.
Dodik has for years been advocating for the separation of the Bosnian Serb semi-autonomous mini-state from Bosnia and having it become part of neighboring Serbia.
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With tacit support from Russia and Serbia, Dodik recently intensified his campaign, pledging that the Bosnian Serbs would declare the creation of their own army, tax authority, customs and judiciary.
Bosniak officials have warned that Dodik’s policies could lead to clashes, and called on the U.S. and the EU to crack down against him and his associates.
The United States has already imposed a travel ban and assets freeze on Dodik and both American and German officials have recently threatened more sanctions in case Bosnian Serbs further weaken Bosnia’s central institutions.
He has repeatedly said he doesn’t care about new sanctions, adding that this would bring Serbs even closer to their “true friends,” referring to Russia and China. He has also denied that the withdrawal from the central institutions would lead to a quick secession or a new war.
There is likely to be a six-month delay before the assembly’s decisions take effect while Dodik tries to renegotiate Bosnia’s fragile makeup with the country’s Bosniaks and Croats from a stronger position.
The Bosnian War started in 1992 when Bosnian Serbs, with the help of the Serb-led Yugoslav army, tried to create ethnically pure territories with an aim of joining neighboring Serbia. More than 100,000 people were killed and millions were left homeless during the worst bloodshed in Europe since World War II.
The war pitted Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats against each other and ended with the U.S.-sponsored peace agreement that created two regions, the Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation.
The two regions were given wide autonomy, but kept some joint institutions, including the army, the top judiciary and tax administration. Bosnia’s three-member rotating presidency is made up of Bosniak, Serb and Croat members.
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