Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bosnian Serbs play up secession threats over Kosovo

By Olja Stanic

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.