June 2, 2016 / 1:43 PM / 2 years ago

Bosnian Serbs warn against publishing 2013 census results

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia (Reuters) - Bosnian Serb leaders warned on Thursday they would not accept the results of Bosnia’s disputed 2013 census because they were incorrect and their publication would damage Serb interests.

The census is seen as a vital tool for economic and social planning. The European Union has urged Bosnia to start publishing data by July 1 if it wants Brussels to consider the membership application it submitted in February.

A dispute over ways of defining who lives in the country’s two autonomous regions - the Serb-dominated Serb Republic and the Federation shared by Croats and Muslim Bosniaks - has held up publication for two years.

The Serbs say many Bosniak and Croat refugees who returned to their homes in the region after the 1992-95 war do not live there all the time.

They say about 190,000 Bosniaks and Croats were wrongly listed and they will agree to publication of the census only if those two groups compromise on the issue of who lives where can be found.

The national statistics agency decided last month to process census questionnaires in line with EU and other international standards, prompting the Serbs to protest that they had been overruled by Croats and Bosniaks.

“Unless we return to compromise as a method of agreement and decision-making, I fear the mechanism for making Bosnia function in general will be brought into question,” said Mladen Ivanic, the Serb member of Bosnia’s three-man inter-ethnic presidency.

Ivanic said he feared the current results would, for example, reduce the number of Serbs allowed to serve in Bosnia’s regional and state services and armed forces.

“Such results would disturb national balance,” added Serb Republic President Milorad Dodik, who held a joint news conference on the issue with Ivanic.

Dodik said he would order his regional statistics office to stop cooperating with the national statistics office if it did not change the way it processes census data.

The EU has said the data would not be considered valid if it was not published by mid-November.

Nobody from the EU delegation in Sarajevo was immediately available to comment.

Reporting by Gordana Katana; Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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