West says Bosnian Serb presidency move illegal

SARAJEVO, Jan 27, 2000 -- (Reuters) The Western body overseeing the peace process in Bosnia condemned as illegal a move by Bosnian Serb Vice President Mirko Sarovic on Wednesday to take over presidential powers in the country's Serb republic.

A spokesman for the Office of the international High Representative (OHR) accused Sarovic of seeking to destabilize Bosnia's Serb half and to undermine the 1995 Dayton accord that ended the 1992-1995 conflict.

Sarovic, of the hardline Serb Democratic Party (SDS) founded in 1990 by wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, earlier told the entity's parliament that he took the action in a bid to resolve a drawn-out political crisis.

The Serb republic, one of Bosnia's two autonomous entities, has been without a president for 10 months.

Last March, the OHR removed President Nikola Poplasen of the ultra-nationalist Radical party, accusing him of obstructing efforts to rebuild the country following the ethnic conflict.

"I will make a contribution to the resolution of the political crisis in Republika Srpska (the Serb republic)," Sarovic said. "My duty is to take over these authorities while the situation is as it is."

But the OHR spokesman said High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch regarded Sarovic's efforts to usurp presidential powers as unconstitutional.

"This move is a regrettable attack on the legal institutions of Republika Srpska," he told Reuters. "Mr. Sarovic will be held accountable for this."

It had been made clear to Sarovic that his functions were limited to those of vice president and any action he may take to exercise presidential powers would be illegitimate, the spokesman added.

According to the Bosnian Serb constitution, the president has the right to propose a new prime minister.

Poplasen's failure to nominate a prime minister-designate with sufficient parliamentary backing allowed the government of Western-leaning Prime Minister Milorad Dodik to stay on in a caretaker capacity following elections in September 1998.

Dodik came to power early that year after ousting hardliners still loyal to Karadzic, who is now a war crimes suspect believed to be hiding in eastern Bosnia.

Sarovic said Dodik's government was not supported by parliament. "This is its key weakness," he told the assembly.

Sarovic did not say who he would put forward as new prime minister. The next parliament session is due on February 8.

The two main parliamentary blocks - the Western-sponsored Sloga (Unity) coalition and the two hardline parties - have around 30 seats each in the 83-seat Bosnian parliament.

Deputies elected mainly by Muslim refugees now living in Bosnia's other autonomous entity - the Moslem-Croat federation - control 15 seats, giving them a crucial role.

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