Bosnian Serb leader summoned for questioning over referendum

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia's chief prosecutor has summoned the president of the country's Serb Republic for questioning after he defied the top court by holding an illegal referendum on whether his autonomous region should mark a national day.

The vote, on whether the Serb Republic should celebrate a Jan. 9 "Statehood Day" holiday, was widely seen as an attempt by Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik to emphasise its separateness from authorities in Sarajevo, the capital.

Western powers fear the vote could fuel separatist sentiment in a country that has never fully recovered from a 1992-95 ethnic war in which some 100,000 were killed.

The conflict was ignited by Serbs' declaration on Jan. 9, 1992 of an independent "Serb Republic" in the north and east of Bosnia. The territory became the autonomous region of the same name under the peace agreement which ended the war.

A prosecution spokesman told Reuters on Monday the Serb Republic's President Milorad Dodik had been invited for questioning as a suspect in the case. There was no immediate word from Dodik on whether he would attend.

Dodik dismissed the possibility of criminal charges being filed against him. "Republika Srpska (the Serb Republic) has nothing to fear," he said after the vote, which was opposed by the region's Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats.

Serbs in the autonomous region on Sunday voted overwhelmingly in favour of the holiday, which the Constitutional Court had ruled discriminatory because it coincided with a Serbian Orthodox Christian festival.

According to referendum organisers, 99.8 percent of voters supported the national day.

Most Bosniaks and Croats had opposed the referendum out of fear that the Serb Republic could be preparing to secede, destroying the delicate federal structure put in place after the war.

A Western diplomat told Reuters that they had little ability to respond to Dodik's referendum gambit, but insisted that secession for the region, which has a third of Bosnia's 3.5 million population, remained a "red line".

Russia, a traditional Bosnian Serb ally, backed the vote on "Statehood Day".

(Editing by Thomas Escritt and Andrew Roche)