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Kosovo minister pulls out of Bosnia meeting, citing Serb 'threats'

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PRISTINA/SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Kosovo Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli has pulled out of a ministerial meeting in Bosnia after Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said he was not welcome in the country’s autonomous Serb region.

Kosovo is one of the countries in the South-East European Cooperation Process, whose ministers are to meet on Wednesday in Banja Luka, de facto capital of Bosnia’s Serb Republic, Republika Srpska.

“I have cancelled my participation in the meeting … because of the threats of the Republika Srpska President, Milorad Dodik, who today … said me and my delegation are not welcome in Banja Luka,” Pacolli said on his Facebook profile late on Monday.

Dodik said on Monday his region had never recognised Kosovo and that “the minister of that fake country cannot be welcome in Republika Srpska”, according to the Bosnian Serb news agency Srna.

Bosnia, which is split in two ethnically-based regions under a weak central government, has not recognised Kosovo because of the objections of the Bosnian Serbs, who follow the policy of their allies in neighbouring Serbia.

Kosovo was once a province of Serbia but declared independence in 2008, almost a decade after a NATO bombing campaign ended a crackdown by Serbian authorities against secessionists among Kosovo’s majority ethic Albanian population.

Belgrade continues to refuse to recognise the institutions of independent Kosovo and has repeatedly boycotted international meetings attended by Kosovo officials.

“With politicians like Dodik the region cannot go any further,” Pacolli wrote on Facebook, adding that Kosovo remained committed to regional cooperation.

Dodik advocates the secession of the Serb Republic from Bosnia and has intensified nationalist rhetoric ahead of an Oct. 7 general election in Bosnia.

Bosnia’s Foreign Ministry, which is organising the Banja Luka meeting, could not confirm that Pacolli had cancelled his participation.

The EU has set Serbia and Kosovo the condition of normalising their relations to advance towards EU membership. The Balkan neighbours agreed in 2013 to resolve pending issues but have made little progress since.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina and Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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