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Bosnia Serbs eye Kosovo ruling as U.S. rules out split

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - The leader of the Serb part of Bosnia revisited the idea of secession on Friday, a day after the World Court ruled that Kosovo’s declaration of independence from neighbouring Serbia was legal.

Washington was quick to rule out any division of Bosnia, riven by inter-ethnic fighting in 1992-5 and still under international supervision.

Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, who said on Thursday the ruling sent “a new message to the Serbs that the politics of violence is successful,” pledged to focus on strengthening the region’s autonomy for now, before adding:

“An additional fight for a status that does not breach international law, in line with the (International Court of Justice’s) opinion, is not excluded.”

The U.S. ambassador to Bosnia, Charles English, dismissed any prospect of secession from Bosnia following the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s ruling that Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence did not violate international law.

“Any division of the country is de facto and de jure unacceptable. The only acceptable path is the creation of a more functional state able to respond to demands of the EU and NATO,” English told the widely circulated daily Oslobodjenje.

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Rather than cooperate with the Muslim-Croat federation which forms the other part of Bosnia, Serbs there continue to look to their wartime ally Serbia, for whom the Kosovo ruling was a major blow, as well as Russia, which criticised it and has not recognised ethnic Albanian-dominated Kosovo.

Bosnian Serbs have done little to enable the central government established by the 1995 peace accord to work, and have threatened to call a referendum on secession, encouraged by nationalist politicians in Serbia angered by the Kosovo events.

There has been no serious violence in Bosnia since 2001, but bickering between the two regions has stalled its progress towards joining the European Union and NATO and required continued international supervision, including 2,000 troops.

Elections due in October are expected to exacerbate ethnic tensions in the former Yugoslav republic, which saw the most brutal violence in the breakup of the Socialist federation.

“It would be interesting to see the reaction of the international community if we declared independence,” Dodik said in the Bosnian Serb capital, Banja Luka, on Friday.

“But there is enough time...In the meantime we will try to make the Serb Republic stronger and more stable.”

Srecko Latal, an analyst with the International Crisis Group think tank said the ICJ ruling could boost separatist sentiments elsewhere in former Yugoslavia unless Serbia and Kosovo negotiate a compromise solution.

“If that does not happen, the Kosovo scenario may serve as an example of how to resolve ethnic issues in Bosnia, Macedonia and elsewhere...” he said.

“But this should not have a serious impact on Bosnia as the legal and political situation is different and its constitution does not allow secession of any of its regions.”

Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Philippa Fletcher