By Maja Zuvela
SARAJEVO (Reuters) - A Bosnian Croat leader on Thursday pulled out of what would have been a historic visit to Serbia this month, accusing the country's nationalist president of meddling in Bosnia's internal affairs.
It marked the latest spat between the two countries since the rise to power a year ago of Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, once a fiery proponent of the "Greater Serbia" ideology that helped tear apart Bosnia in the 1990s.
The strained relations represent a setback for efforts to reconcile the former republics of federal Yugoslavia as they each strive to draw closer to the European Union.
Bosnia's tripartite presidency, comprising leaders from its former warring Serb, Muslim and Croat communities, had been due to make an unprecedented joint visit to the Serbian capital Belgrade on April 23.
But Croat presidency member Zeljko Komsic said he was pulling out following a speech by Nikolic on Wednesday at a United Nations General Assembly debate on the role of ad hoc U.N. war crimes courts.
Nikolic accused the U.N.'s tribunal for the former Yugoslavia of bias against Serbs. Bosnia's Muslims and Croats had already bristled at Nikolic's reception this week of Milorad Dodik, president of Bosnia's autonomous Serb Republic, when he referred to himself and Dodik as leaders "of the two Serb states".
"Tomislav Nikolic's recent remarks represent classic meddling in Bosnia's internal affairs, calling for the breakup of the country," Komsic said in a statement.
"I see the meeting in Belgrade as pointless."
Some 100,000 people died in Bosnia's 1992-95 war, which ended in a peace deal that split the country into two autonomous regions joined by a weak central government. Ethnic rivalry, and the Serb Republic's contempt for their joint state, has stifled development.
The Muslim member of the Bosnian presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, said he still planned make the trip to Belgrade to meet Nikolic, and "explain to him in person the specifics of Bosnia's constitutional framework and warn him of the consequences of his rhetoric".
He accused Nikolic of trying to stoke fears over the stability of Bosnia as a bargaining tactic in delicate Serbian negotiations with its former province of Kosovo, which seceded in 2008.
Nikolic stirred controversy soon after taking office last year by denying that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces constituted genocide, rejecting a ruling by the U.N. tribunal.
"Lies lead to violence and violence leads to conflict and Serbs must realize what they got and what they lost with such rhetoric," Izetbegovic told reporters.
(Writing by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Matt Robinson and Andrew Roche)