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Serbo Journal

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Sarajevo, 9 June (AKI) - Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica's official visit to the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska (RS) on Friday drew immediate criticism from Bosnia's majority Muslim leaders and the high representative of the international community (OHR), Christian Schwarz Schilling. Kostunica held talks in Banjaluka, the RS capital, with prime minister Milorad Dodik, RS president Dragan Cavic and other officials on economic cooperation and the special ties between the RS and Serbia created by the Dayton peace accord which ended the civil war in Bosnia in 1995.

But the very idea of a state visit, even before it took place, raised eyebrows in Sarajevo that Kostunica might discuss with Serb leaders on a possible referendum in the RS to secede from Bosnia. Last month, voters in Montenegro opted in a referendum to end their state union with Serbia.

Schwartz Schilling told Kostunica that it was improper to visit a part of Bosnia without clearance from the authorities in Sarajevo. Bosnian Muslim prime minister, Adnan Terzic, said that Kostunica was wrong if he thought he could "find Serbia's path to the European Union through Banjaluka. The real address is Sarajevo," said Terzic.

"The regional cooperation of the western Balkans countries means the cooperation of state governments, not its parts," he added. Terzic reminded Kostunica that the idea of partitioning Bosnia has sent former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic to the international tribunal for war crimes in the Hague, where he died on 11 March of a heart attack after a marathon trial, for much of which he conducted his own defence.

Dodik has recently hinted that Serbs in the RS could hold a referendum on independence, if Muslims continue to put pressure on the Bosnian government to abolish the RS as a "creature of genocide."

Under the Dayton agreement, Bosnia was divided into two entities, the Muslim-Croat federation and the RS. Each entity had all the attributes of a state, including its own government, parliament, army and police. However, the international community has been moving to limit their powers to strengthen the powers of Bosnia's central government in Sarajevo.

Terzic said that Milosevic was dead and that Bosnia was now strong enough to resist any attempts to partition it. Terzic has asked Schwartz Schilling to stop Dodik's "inflammatory rhetoric" and Schwartz Schilling has written to Dodik, saying the RS has no jurisdiction to hold a referendum on independence. "Any talks with the representatives of a foreign government on the issue is a very serious move," Schwartz Schilling warned.

But Dodik and Kostunica said after their meeting that the issue of a referendum wasn't discussed at all, only mutual ties and economic cooperation. Kostunica said that Serbia, as a co-signer of the Dayton agreement, had a vital interest in preserving it. The international community has been moving towards granting Kosovo independence, and Serbian leaders have warned that it might trigger a "domino effect" in the region.

Kostunica warned that the international agreements cannot be applied selectively and that the international law must be strictly obeyed in all cases. "Let us respect the agreements as they are - the Dayton agreement and Resolution 1244 on Kosovo, and we will be on a safe ground," Kostunica concluded.

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