Bosnia and Herzegovina faces its most acute political crisis since the 1995 signing of the Dayton-Paris accords that ended the war in the Balkans, the international representative for the country told the U.N. Security Council on Monday.
Valentin Inzko told the 15-member council charged with international peace and security that a referendum scheduled for mid-June by Bosnia's Serbs is a "blatant attack" on the peace agreement, and the achievements made since then. The Serbs say they want to highlight their rejection of the country's federal institutions, especially its war crimes court, which they see as biased against them.
Inzko, who has final say over the Balkan nation's affairs according to the deal that ended Bosnia's 1992-1995 war, has given Bosnia's Serbs until week's end to call off the vote.
Since the end of the war, Bosnia has been divided into two ethnic mini states _ one for Serbs, the other shared by Muslim Bosniaks and Croats. The Serbs want to maintain as much autonomy as possible while the international community and the Muslims are pushing for more central institutions so Bosnia can fulfill conditions to join the 27-nation European Union.
The EU representative for Bosnia says that more than seven months after elections there is still no prospect of a new state government being formed.
"The need for an international presence, both civilian and military, with an executive mandate is still evident," he said.
"The entire international community must take the deteriorating situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina very seriously," said Inzko. "Further erosion of the state, its institutions and the rule of law will push Bosnia and Herzegovina into deeper crisis and instability. This could also have negative consequences for the entire region."
Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo, U.S. deputy permanent representative to the U.N., said Inzko "has our complete support in condemning these unwarranted and unlawful challenges to his authority." She said the United States was mulling its own measures in support of Bosnian state institutions "should they become necessary."
The Bosnian Serbs wrote U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon over the weekend, claiming that Inzko is trying to "deceive" the U.N. with his report and insisting he is the one threatening Bosnia's peace by misusing his powers.
"The continues abuse of power by the High Representative, a rule based on autocratic decisions ... cannot be further tolerated," the letter to Ban stated.
Serbian Ambassador Feodor Starcevic told the council that the referendum "has nothing to do with the territorial integrity of the country and is not in contravention of Dayton Peace Accords." He also said his country had no intention of interfering with Bosnia and Herzegovina's internal affairs.
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik _ for some time at odds with the West _ says Serbs would rather drop the idea of Bosnia joining the EU if that means they must transfer more power from their regional government to federal institutions.
Dodik has called on old ally Serbia to help. The Russian ambassador to Bosnia, Aleksandar Bocan-Harcenko, has also said his country will not support Inzko's report.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin pointed out the letter when addressing the Security Council on Monday, arguing for a negotiated solution. British Ambassador Phil Parham said his delegation had seen the letter and "we fundamentally disagree with the legal argumentation."
Associated Press reporter Aida Cerkez contributed to this report from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.