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Serb nationalist calls on EU to grant Bosnia candidate status

Serb nationalist calls on EU to grant Bosnia candidate status
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BANJA LUKA, Bosnia (Reuters) - The new Serb member of Bosnia's tripartite inter-ethnic presidency called on the European Union on Monday to grant the country candidate status and said it was time for foreign judges and peace envoy to leave.

Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik, an outspoken supporter of Russia, was speaking as he sworn in in the parliament of Bosnia's autonomous Serb Republic, one day before his official inauguration in Sarajevo along with the Croat and Bosniak members of the presidency.

"I call on the European Union to immediately grant to Bosnia candidate status for membership," Dodik said, adding that the gesture would show a constructive approach from the EU instead of supporting foreign interventions in the divided country.

Bosnia applied for EU membership in 2016 but the reforms needed to pursue its bid have stalled.

Dodik will be the first of the three presidency members to preside over the body that directs Bosnia's foreign policy, in which they rotate each six months. He said he would insist on the departure of the international peace envoy and foreign judges from Bosnia.

They were installed as the part of the U.S.-brokered Dayton peace accords that ended the 1992-95 war in which more than 100,000 died and about 2 million were forced from their homes.

Dodik, who was last year blacklisted by the United States over violations of the Dayton accords, said Russia is "our natural and powerful ally", and that he will work to resume cooperation with Russia, China and the United States, "on the basis of mutual respect".

He also said Bosnia should be demilitarised and its military budget drastically cut, echoing his repeated opposition to integrating Bosnia into NATO.

"Bosnia will be militarily neutral because any alignment with any military alliance does not have support of Serbs," he said.

Dodik's remarks imply it will be difficult to balance his policies with those of the Bosniak and Croat presidency members, Sefik Dzaferovic and Zeljko Komsic, who both favour NATO integration and cooperation with international representatives.

(Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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