EU should consider sanctions on Bosnian Serbs if crisis worsens, document says

EU flags flutter in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels
EU flags flutter in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

BRUSSELS, Feb 14 (Reuters) - The European Union should consider sanctions on Bosnia's autonomous Serb Republic (RS) and also withhold financial support if the Balkan country's crisis continues to worsen, according to an internal EU document seen by Reuters.

Bosnia has been going through its worst political crisis since the end of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, with Bosnian Serbs challenging state institutions as part of their longtime bid to secede and eventually join neighbouring Serbia.

The internal document prepared by the EU's foreign service for EU foreign ministers said that travel bans and asset freezes on RS officials should be considered if Bosnian Serb politicians continued to seek to seize powers from the central state.

Lawmakers in the RS voted on Feb. 10 to form a separate body to choose judges and prosecutors, effectively pulling the region out of the state's top judicial institution as part of a separatist agenda.

The EU document also said sanctions could be widened to "other activities that represent a threat to the state", although they should remain as a last resort.

"The EU could decide to use its financial assistance as leverage," the document said, nothing that the EU had some 1.5 billion euros ($1.69 billion) invested in, and funds provided to, Bosnia.

The document gives EU foreign ministers options when they meet to discuss Bosnia at a scheduled meeting on Feb. 21.

Germany has already called for sanctions on Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, but Hungary has argued that such measures would be counterproductive as the EU seeks to bring Bosnia and five other Balkan countries into the bloc.

The United States on Jan. 5 imposed fresh sanctions on Dodik. The U.S. Treasury Department accused Dodik, already subject to U.S. sanctions under a different authority, of corruption and threatening the stability and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

($1 = 0.8852 euros)

Reporting by Robin Emmott Editing by Bernadette Baum

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