World News

Bosnian Serbs ask Vucic to tie their region's independence to Kosovo talks

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - As Western diplomats try to revive stalled talks on normalising ties between Serbia and Kosovo, Bosnian Serb leaders on Thursday put pressure on Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to include the status of their own region in any future negotiations.

Serbia does not recognise its former province Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence. But the European Union has said it must do so as a precondition for talks on its future membership of the EU.

Talks between the two parties, mediated by Germany, France and European Union diplomats, have restarted this month after having broken down almost two years ago. [L8N2EH2XX]

“We are very interested for the talks related to the status of Kosovo,” Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, said at a news conference with Vucic in Banja Luka, the de facto capital of the Serb region in Bosnia.

“It must become a part of public discourse that it is impossible to talk about a special status of Kosovo without talking about a special status of Republika Srpska,” said Dodik, a pro-Russian nationalist who has repeatedly called for the secession of the Serb region from Bosnia.

The 1990s Bosnian war in which more than 100,000 died was ended by the U.S.-brokered Dayton peace deal, dividing the country into the Serb-dominated Serb Republic and a Federation dominated by Bosniaks and Croats, which are linked via a weak central government.

Under the provisions of the Dayton peace accords, no region can unilaterally secede from Bosnia.

Vucic, who maintains close ties with ethnic kin in Bosnia but always underlines Serbia’s respect for Bosnia’s territorial integrity, said his duty was to listen to his Serb brethren and help them in any way he could.

“Dayton is a sacred letter for us. We are a guarantor of the implementation of the Dayton peace agreement,” said Vucic, who is under international pressure to normalise ties with Kosovo while facing protests against his own government at home.

He pledged 100 million euros to help the Serb Republic build a section of the road connecting the eastern town of Bijeljina with the Serbian border, and added that Serbia has considered to build an airport in the Bosnian southeastern town of Trebinje.

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Hugh Lawson