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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia: Serbs Must Decide

Russia stopped short Tuesday of condemning a planned referendum by the Bosnian Serbs that is expected to ratify their rejection of the latest international peace plan and has provoked other mediators' anger.

But Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigory Karasin said it was time for the Bosnian Serbs to give a final "yes or no" to the peace deal, which is backed by Belgrade.

"It's a very doubtful business to hold a referendum in such conditions and to count on a reliable result. But it's the right of any leadership to hold a referendum and we must respect that," he told a briefing.

UN commanders requested a NATO air strike on Friday after Bosnian Serb forces raided a depot inside a 20 kilometer exclusion zone set up by the United Nations and took back a tank and other heavy weapons they had previously surrendered.

They have since returned the weapons.

Hinting that Moscow saw the NATO air strike as partially justified, Karasin said incidents like the depot raid could "aggravate political conditions for a peaceful settlement of the situation in former Yugoslavia.

"We expect that the Bosnian Serbs in the future will not allow a repetition of such provocative actions and will direct their efforts towards the peaceful resolution of the conflict in accordance with the proposals of the contact group."

Friday's air strike followed the Bosnian Serbs' rejection of a peace plan drawn up by the "contact group" of Russia, Germany, France, Britain and the United States that would split Bosnia roughly equally between Serbs and a Moslem-Croats alliance.

On Monday they announced the wording of their planned referendum question, making it clear they did not intend to back down.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin reacted angrily to earlier NATO air strikes, demanding the right to be consulted in advance. It was not immediately clear whether NATO commanders or UN officials had consulted Moscow this time.