BANJA LUKA, Bosnia (Reuters) - Bosnia’s autonomous Serb region ordered a halt to cooperation with national law-enforcement agencies on Thursday in protest at a war crimes raid, further threatening the integrity of the country 20 years after it emerged from war.
The step by the government of the Serb Republic was endorsed by its parliament after a raid by the national SIPA police on a local police station and municipal buildings in the autonomous region as part of an investigation into war crimes during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.
Decrying the raid as “inappropriate and provocative”, the government said it and all institutions of the Serb Republic were “breaking off cooperation with the Bosnian court, Bosnian prosecution and SIPA”.
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik is already threatening to hold a referendum on the jurisdiction of Bosnia’s national court, deepening concern in the West that the fragile state, divided into two autonomous components at the end of the war, could break apart.
The government on Thursday accused the court of demonstrating a lack of trust in the regional police by not giving advance warning of the operation, on the grounds that evidence might be destroyed.
It ordered the Serb Interior Ministry to “prevent any entry or search of (Serb) Republic and local government premises”.
Dodik, whose secessionist rhetoric has frequently put him at odds with Western powers that have spent billions of euros on stabilising Bosnia, condemned the raid as an “attack” that could have triggered armed conflict had Serb officials not shown restraint.
“We don’t want any armed conflict ... but we want to state that the constitutions of Bosnia and the Serb Republic have been violated and that this represents a brutal provocation,” Dodik told lawmakers.
SIPA declined to comment on the decision, saying only that it had acted in accordance with the law and on the orders of the authorised prosecutor.
Five Serbs were arrested during the operation on suspicion of involvement in the wartime killings of 27 Muslim Bosniaks in the area. The state prosecutor’s office said it had acted on evidence that “police and civil defence structures in Novi Grad actively and directly” took part in the removal and concealment of the bodies.
Parliament in the Serb Republic endorsed the government’s decision by a narrow majority. Some Serb opposition deputies warned the move was hasty and counter-productive.
In Bosnia’s other region, the Bosniak-Croat Federation, political parties accused Dodik’s government of mounting a “state coup” and called on Bosnia’s international peace envoy to intervene.
There was no immediate reaction from the office of the envoy, Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, who has powers to overturn laws and dismiss officials.
Additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Matt Robinson and Andrew Roche