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SARAJEVO: The Europ­ean Union peacekeeping force (EUFOR) in Bosnia war­­ned the Serbian representative on Bosnia’s presidency on Tuesday against saying anything to weaken the country’s multi-ethnic armed forces after he made comments widely seen as divisive.

The formation of Bosnia’s armed forces (AFBiH), assi­sted by Nato and EUFOR, has been hailed as the country’s biggest achievement since the breakup of Yugo­slavia in the 1990s, uniting former wartime foes and promoting national stability.

Under the 1995 Dayton peace accords, Bosnia was split into two autonomous regions - the Serb-dominated Serb Republic and a federation shared by Muslim Bosniaks and Croats. Each region has its own government and parliament.

The AFBiH, formed in 2005, brings together Bosni­a­­ks, Bosnian Serb and Bos­nian Croat former military components under a state law on defence agreed by all political parties and appro­ved by the national parliament. But nationalist Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said at a ceremony on Sunday marking the Day of the Serb Republic army (VRS) that the Serb component of Bosnia’s military would wear its own uniform at next year’s ceremony, not that of the united army.

Dodik, who has often criticised Bosnia’s state-level multi-ethnic institutions even while serving as chairman of Bosnia’s tripartite presid­e­n­­cy since last October, said the Third Infantry Regiment was part of the Serb Republic army and expected to “defe­­n­d its achievements” if need be.

His comments sparked an angry reaction from Bosniak leaders, who said the VRS had been mentioned in many verdicts by the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia as a force responsible for killing Bosniaks during the wars of the 1990s.

EUFOR, which in 2004 took over from Nato the task of keeping the peace in Bosnia, said: “Any statements which serve to undermine the AFBiH and their legal status as the single, united, military force of the state of Bosnia are counter-productive and should be avoided.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2019