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Erdogan Says Serbia's Backing Crucial For Bosnia's Territorial Integrity

Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan (left) and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic review a guard of honor during a welcome ceremony for the latter's visit to Ankara on January 18.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Serbian counterpart that Belgrade's support for Bosnia's territorial integrity is very important and its role is critical for the peace and stability of the region.

Speaking in Ankara after talks with President Aleksandar Vucic, Erdogan also called on the leaders of Bosnia's three entities to refrain from moves that could endanger the Balkan country's territorial integrity and urged them to act "with a sense of responsibility."

He said Bosnia's Serb, Croat, and Bosniak leaders would be invited for crisis talks after Serbia's elections in April.

The crisis broke out after nationalist lawmakers in Republika Srpska, Bosnia's Serb entity, voted for a nonbinding measure last year to begin withdrawing from Bosnia's central armed forces, tax system, and judiciary.

The measure has long been backed by Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who earlier this month was sanctioned by Washington for "destabilizing and corrupt activities and attempts to dismantle" the U.S.-brokered Dayton peace accords that ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian War.

"After these (Serbian) elections, we want to bring together the leaders of these three groups and to have a meeting with them. With this meeting, let us take steps to ensure Bosnia's territorial integrity," Erdogan told a joint news conference with Vucic. "We agreed on this."

He said the meeting could take place in Istanbul or Belgrade.

Vucic told the news conference that Belgrade was committed to Bosnia's integrity and that the preservation of peace and stability in the Balkans was paramount, along "with respect for differences."

The 1995 Dayton accords created two autonomous entities -- Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation -- that share some central institutions under a weak and often dysfunctional central government.

Dodik has described Bosnia as “an experiment by the international community” and an “impossible, imposed country.”

He also has said that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces “did not take place.” The massacre was ruled a genocide by the international war crimes court.

Turkey, which has longtime historical ties with the Balkans, has criticized the Bosnian Serb legislators' move as "wrong, dangerous" and has offered to mediate in the crisis, which has raised fears of a relapse into ethnic strife in Bosnia.

Erdogan, who visited Tirana on January 17, was quoted by local media as saying Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, Dodik and other regional officials had voiced support for his mediation offer.

With reporting by Reuters