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EU's Ashton on surprise visit to Bosnia

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(SARAJEVO) - EU diplomacy chief Catherine Ashton made a surprise visit to Bosnia on Friday for talks with local politicians in a bid to resolve the country's political crisis.

Ashton will first meet Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik in Banja Luka, the capital of the Serb entity in Bosnia, Republika Srpska (RS), the European Union delegation in Bosnia said in a statement.

She will then meet in Sarajevo with representatives of Bosnia's joint presidency and main party leaders, it added.

"The European Union is reaffirming its clear commitment to the European perspective of Bosnia and Herzegovina," Ashton said in a statement ahead of the visit.

Brussels wants "to see Bosnia progress on this path, with the governments formed at all levels and with functioning institutions, in particular on the state level," she added.

"We want to see the outstanding issues addressed and we want to see all the necessary reforms set in motion," Ashton said.

Bosnia, which has failed to form a government since October elections, is facing its worst crisis since the end of the war, the International Crisis Group think tank warned last week.

The Dayton peace agreement left Bosnia divided into two semi-autonomous halves -- the Serbs' Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation.

The two entities share weak central institutions, while each has its own government.

Ashton's visit also comes amid a rift between the Bosnian Serb leadership and the top international representative in the country, Valentin Inzko, who has demanded the cancellation of a referendum scheduled for next month in the RS.

The poll would ask Bosnian Serbs if they support the central institutions, which are tasked notably with handling cases of war crimes, organised crime and corruption.

It would also ask whether they support the international representative's power to impose laws or fire elected officials if they go against the Dayton peace accords.

Inzko oversees civilian aspects of the accord that ended the Bosnian war in 1995.

On Thursday, Inzko threatened to sack Dodik for calling the referendum and insisted that he would invoke his power to annul it if the Bosnian Serbs do not do so themselves.

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