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Bosnian Serb leader defies prosecution summons to Sarajevo

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia (Reuters) - The head of Bosnia’s autonomous Serb region rejected a summons by the national chief prosecutor on Tuesday, saying he would not travel to Sarajevo for questioning over his violation of a ruling by the politically-divided country’s highest court.

Milorad Dodik, President of Republika Srpska, speaks after the results of a referendum over a disputed national holiday during an election rally in Pale, Bosnia and Herzegovina, September 25, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Milorad Dodik defied a ban imposed by the Constitutional Court last weekend when he held and won a referendum on whether his region should mark “Statehood Day”, a national holiday opposed by the region’s Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats.

Many fear Dodik is preparing a secession vote, which could destabilise Bosnia and the entire region two decades after a war in which Serbs and Croats carved ethnically “pure” enclaves out of Bosnia with the backing of their kin in neighbouring Serbia and Croatia.

The court had blocked the referendum, saying the holiday, which marks the Bosnian Serbs’ 1992 secession from multi-ethnic Bosnia, discriminated against Bosniaks and Croats since it coincided with a Serbian Orthodox religious festival.

Dodik said he feared for his security in Sarajevo after statements by some Bosniak leaders which he perceived as threats.

“I will not go to the prosecutor’s office in Sarajevo but I am ready to give a statement in any other judiciary office in the Serb Republic,” Dodik told a news conference.

His refusal to comply with the summons could force the prosecutor to issue an arrest warrant, which could be difficult to enforce in the autonomous region, where the writ of Sarajevo is weak.

“If Dodik fails to comply with a summons, and fails to justify it, the prosecution will then issue an arrest warrant,” said Bosnia’s Security Minister Dragan Mektic, a Bosnian Serb.

The prosecutor’s office declined to comment. Bosnian Serb war veterans said they would not allow Dodik to be arrested.

The Bosnian Serbs voted overwhelmingly in favour of “Statehood Day”, remembered by many of Bosnia’s citizens as the trigger for three years of ethnic war that cost 100,000 lives.

Reporting by Gordana Katana and Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Thomas Escritt and Richard Balmforth