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Legislators in Bosnia's semi-autonomous Serb entity backed the holding of a referendum on whether to continue to recognise the state court system. The US embassy in Sarajevo called the move "work of corrupt forces."
Lawmakers in the autonomous Serb region of Bosnia voted on Wednesday to hold a referendum on the authority of the national court over Serbs, in a move the West says would mark an open challenge to the integrity of the Bosnian state.
By a slim majority, legislators backed the proposal by Milorad Dodik, the president of Bosnia's Serb Republic, who has grown increasingly bold in advocating the country's dissolution 20 years after it emerged from war. Of the Republika Srpska's 83 MPs, 45 voted in favor of the referendum, which should take place within 50 days of the decision's entry into force.
The US embassy in Sarajevo denounced the move as the work of "corrupt forces" and warned it was "engaging relevant US government departments and agencies to determine an appropriate response to those responsible for creating this political provocation."
Dodik threatened in 2011 to hold a referendum in the Serb territory questioning the central justice system's legitimacy, but was held back by pressure from the international community. While the international community and the Muslim majority in Bosnia support a strong central government, Serbs in the country prefer a decentralized authority.
"The referendum will be held"
Addressing parliament, Dodik argued the Sarajevo-based court was biased against Orthodox Serbs, who share power in Bosnia with Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats.
The referendum still has to pass the upper house of the regional parliament, where Muslim Bosniaks are expected to refer it to the Constitutional Court. "But regardless of that, the referendum will be held because we regard Constitutional Court decisions as political rather than legal," said Dodik.
The Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina together make up the Balkan state, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The two entities have been joined since the 1992-1995 war by weak centralised institutions. Bosnia's tribunal and prosecution were created in 2002 and 2003 by the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, after the Dayton Agreement that ended the war. The two institutions were set up to process war crimes and organised crime cases.
dr/jil (AFP, Reuters)