January 12, 2017 / 6:24 PM / 8 months ago

Bosnian Serbs halt contact with envoy over national day 'insults'

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia (Reuters) - Bosnia’s Serb leadership halted contact with the country’s international peace envoy on Thursday, demanding an apology for what they said were insulting remarks about their disputed national holiday.

The statement underlined the highly charged atmosphere in the divided Balkan country - a division that has deepened since its Serb Republic part pressed ahead with its own Statehood Day celebrations on Monday, defying a constitutional court ban.

Bosnia’s autonomous Serb Republic said it was offended by comments by Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, in an interview with news website Faktor on Tuesday, when he warned of the dangers of marking days in history.

“If we start celebrating holidays such as Jan. 9, than some might come to celebrate, let’s say, April 10, the day of the establishment of NDH,” Inzko was reported as saying, referring to a puppet Nazi-allied state in Croatia formed in 1941.

“We are demanding that High Representative Valentin Inzko apologises to the Serb people for the stated insults,” the Serb Republic government said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear what impact the break in contact would have on the workings of the country, a precarious union of the Serb Republic and the Bosniak-Croat Federation, formed after the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

Inzko’s office said he had meant no comparison between the Serb Federation and the NDH - adding that both sides had to keep cooperating with him under the terms Dayton peace treaty that ended the war and formed the country.

“This is an obligation which must be respected,” the office said.

Inzko has wide-ranging powers to act against violations of the Dayton agreement and said in December that any moves to split Bosnia along ethnic lines could force international powers to intervene. [L5N1E72O2]

Western powers have condemned the Serb Republic’s Statehood celebrations saying they threaten the country’s unity and constitutional order.

Bosnian Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik has frequently locked horns with Inzko and has repeatedly threatened to secede.

The Jan. 9 national holiday marks the date in 1992 when Bosnian Serbs declared independence after boycotting a referendum in which Bosniaks and Croats voted to secede from Serbian-led federal Yugoslavia, triggering the war. [L5N1EZ4LP]

Reporting by Gordana Katana and Maja Zuvela; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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