The government of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska said on December 10 it will end cooperation with national courts, prosecutors and the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) following raids in the town of Novi Grad, apparently in connection to a war crimes investigation.
The move further escalates tensions between Bosnia & Herzegovina’s national institutions and the government of the mainly ethnic Serb Republika Srpska, the smaller of the two autonomous entities that make up the country. This has led to growing concerns about breaches to the Dayton agreement that ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, with possible implications for Bosnia’s future as a state.
The government of the Republika Srpska said in a statement that investigation agency SIPA had illegally searched the police station, local government and a utilities firm in Novi Grad, a town around 80km from its capital Banja Luka.
The government called SIPA’s actions “a serious violation of cooperation” between police in the entity and at state level.
“Having in mind such inappropriate and provocative actions the government and all the institutions of the Republika Srpska terminate their cooperation with the court, the prosecution and SIPA,” the statement reads.
No further details on the search have been revealed by either the government or SIPA. However, local daily Nezavisne Novine reported that SIPA arrested five people suspected of war crimes.
Relations between the Republika Srpska and Bosnia’s central government in Sarajevo have worsened since the 2014 general election, after which Bosniak and Croat parties struck a coalition deal in the national parliament, excluding the main Serb party.
Since then, the Republika Srpska’s president Milorad Dodik has stepped up efforts to assert the region’s independence, including by reaching out directly to both Serbia and Russia.
In July, Dodik announced plans for a referendum on the authority of the state-level judicial institutions. The referendum would challenge the authority of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, who is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Dayton agreement.
The date was initially set for November 15, 2015, but was postponed after a court challenge. A new date has not been set yet, but the leader of the opposition NDP party Dragan Cavic said in September that the Republika Srpska could hold the referendum in mid-March 2016 or even in the summer.
The planned referendum provoked a strong negative international reaction since it would breach the Dayton agreement with potentially serious consequences for stability in the country.
Another conflict erupted earlier this week when the Bosnian constitutional court banned celebrations of Republic Day in the Serb Republic, due to take place on January 9.
The holiday commemorates the proclamation of the Republic of the Serb People of Bosnia and Herzegovina in January 1992, shortly before the outbreak of the Bosnian civil war. At the time Bosnian Serbs claimed their republic was part of Yugoslavia - rather than Bosnia, which had declared its independence the year before.
The constitutional court court said the holiday was discriminatory and should not be celebrated until it complies with international human rights legislation. The decision provoked a strong reaction in the Republika Srpska where the government said it showed the need for serious reforms at the constitutional court.