February 14, 2008 / 4:33 PM / 10 years ago

Bosnia Serbs play up secession threats over Kosovo

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia (Reuters) - Bosnian Serb nationalists stepped up threats on Thursday to secede from Bosnia if Kosovo declares independence from Serbia on Sunday.

“In case Kosovo proclaims independence, we shall request independence for the Serb Republic as well,” Branislav Dukic, the chairman of SPONA, an association gathering several Bosnian Serb war veterans groups, told a news conference.

Under the Dayton accords that ended the 1992-95 war, Bosnia comprises two loosely connected autonomous regions, the Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat federation, with little love lost between them.

While Muslims and Croats want a stronger state, the Serbs want to preserve full autonomy of the region they won in the war with help from their political and economic backers in Serbia.

Dukic said his association would ask the regional parliament to declare the Serb Republic’s independence without referendum “if the European Union recognizes independent Kosovo unilaterally and against international law”.

“If Kosovo’s illegal parliament may declare independence, there is no reason why the Republika Srpska legal parliament would not have that right,” Dukic told Reuters.

Dane Cankovic of the “Choice is Yours” nationalist movement, which advocate the Serb Republic’s secession, said the movement would stage peaceful protests if Kosovo becomes independent and then pressure the Serb parliament to do the same.

“We want to remain in neighborly relations with Sarajevo and Zagreb and in fraternal relations with Belgrade,” Cankovic told Reuters.

Analysts say the final decision will depend on Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, who has rallied all Serb political forces behind the goal of having a stronger Serb Republic.

So far, Dodik has dismissed any direct links between Kosovo and Bosnia and urged for calm, but changed the tune somewhat on Thursday.

“Bosnia’s state institutions have never verified the Dayton peace agreement,” Dodik said. “In case of a unilateral declaration of Kosovo’s independence, others can also develop such ideas too,” he said without elaborating.

Serb Republic police director Uros Pena said that all police forces in the region would be on high alert for any unrest over the proclamation of Kosovo’s independence.

International officials and Muslims and Croats say there should be no parallel between Kosovo and the Serb Republic because Bosnia is recognized as a sovereign state by the U.N. and the Dayton peace accords guarantee territorial integrity.

Kosovo’s leaders point out that under the old Yugoslav constitution it had autonomy, and the right to secede, until this was revoked in 1989.

Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic, editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Richard Meares

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