Bosnia tension eases as Serbs cancel referendum

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik and EU's Baroness Ashton in Banja Luka, 13 May 11
Image caption Baroness Ashton (right) said Bosnian Serb complaints would be studied

The Bosnian Serb leader has cancelled a referendum that would have challenged Bosnia's courts and the UN envoy overseeing the country's institutions.

Milorad Dodik told EU foreign affairs chief Baroness Ashton that he was satisfied with her assurances that Bosnia's judiciary would be reviewed.

Mr Dodik accuses Bosnia's war crimes court of bias against Serbs and he has criticised the UN envoy, who has the power to dismiss Bosnian officials.

Bosnia remains ethnically divided.

The Dayton Accords which ended the 1993-95 war created two semi-autonomous entities: the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

"I think that a referendum for the time being is not necessary", Mr Dodik told reporters after meeting Baroness Ashton in Banja Luka, the Bosnian Serb capital.

The referendum in Republika Srpska would have gauged support for the presence of the UN high representative, Valentin Inzko. He warned recently that it could jeopardise the Dayton agreement.

It would also have asked Bosnian Serbs if they supported Bosnia's central institutions, which tackle war crimes cases, corruption and organised crime.

Review of judiciary

While the Serbs want to maintain as much autonomy as possible, the international community and the Bosniaks have been pushing for more centralised institutions and the country to fulfil conditions to join the EU.

Speaking after his talks with Baroness Ashton, Mr Dodik said "we understand this as the beginning of a dialogue on the judiciary, where the shortcomings in the work of the judicial institutions at Bosnia-Hercegovina level will be reviewed".

Baroness Ashton said the European Commission would open "a structured dialogue" on the work of the Bosnian judiciary, as a necessary part of Bosnia's moves towards joining the EU.

She pledged a "comprehensive overview of the whole judiciary".

She also told Mr Dodik that she expected him to stick to his commitment "to remove the threat of the referendum".

Last week an influential think-tank, the International Crisis Group (ICG), urged the separate communities in Bosnia to compromise, warning that their political conflict was "starting to tear apart state institutions and it can threaten the state itself".

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