Bosnian Serbs celebrate holiday banned by court

Bosnian Serbs celebrate Serb Republic national holiday, banned by court, in East Sarajevo

By Daria Sito-Sucic

EAST SARAJEVO, Bosnia (Reuters) - Bosnian Serbs celebrated their autonomous republic's statehood day on Monday with a parade of armed police, special forces and armoured vehicles in a town adjoining Sarajevo, despite the holiday being banned and legal complaints by Muslim Bosniaks.

Jan. 9 marks the date in 1992 when Bosnian Serbs declared independence, triggering a war in which 100,000 were killed, of them 11,000 in Sarajevo that was besieged by Bosnian Serb forces for 43 months. It also coincides with a Serbian Orthodox Christian holiday.

It was this religious component that led Bosnia's Constitutional Court to declare the holiday illegal as it discriminated against the region's Catholic Croat and Muslim Bosniak communities.

Tight security controlled traffic in and out of East Sarajevo, the Serb-majority town that sprang from the capital after a 1995 peace agreement divided Bosnia into two autonomous regions, the Serb Republic and Bosniak-Croat Federation.

It is the first time that the march of 2,500 armed Serb police and civilians has been held on the borders of Muslim Bosniak-dominated Sarajevo.

Fourteen war veterans' organisations filed criminal charges on Monday at a Sarajevo court against the Serb Republic leadership over violations of the constitutional court's ruling.

Those taking part in the parade were undeterred.

"This is what we have fought for, the only bright point of the war that Serbs did not even want, to get the republic which we need to preserve," said Pajo Paprica, a member of the special police brigade from the eastern town of Foca.

Last week, Sarajevo war veterans announced protests against the holiday's celebration, but the police banned the gatherings saying it would step up their presence at the city borders.

International peace envoy Christian Schmidt warned of consequences for public officials taking part in the banned celebrations. He has the power to impose sanctions. His role is not recognised by Serb Republic separatist President Milorad Dodik.

Dodik, who addressed the parade and joined a ceremony in Banja Luka on Sunday, said no court would rule when Serbs celebrate their holidays, and said Serbs did not want to live in a multi-ethnic state.

"We are not threat to anyone and we don't do this in spite of anyone," Dodik said on Monday, addressing hundreds of armed police troops.

"We only want to say we are here and we are ready to fight for our freedom." He said the only goal of all Serbs was to have their own state which will then unite with Serbia.

At Sunday's ceremony, he awarded Russian President Vladimir Putin with the Serb Republic's highest medal of honour in absentia.

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Alison Williams)