Bosnian leaders agree on changing constitution

Leaders of Bosnia's three major ethnic groups have reached an accord designed to unify the Balkan country by remaking the government's constitutional structure.

"We have decided to embark upon a process of constitutional reform that will enhance the authorities of the state government and streamline parliament and the office of the presidency," they said in a signed statement.

"These are only the first steps," the agreement said. "We recognize that further reforms of the constitution will be necessary" to meet criteria for membership in the European Union.

"We are committed to working together to undertake these reforms and to improve the quality of life for all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina," it said.

A decade after a bloody three-year war gave way to an ethnically divided government, the agreement to overhaul the constitutional structure was signed Monday night after three days of negotiations overseen by U.S. diplomats.

A formal announcement was expected Tuesday by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The statement signed by representatives of the Croats, Serbs and Muslim political groups commits the parties to work out the details by March 2006.

The agreement was in line with a framework proposed last month by Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns during a trip to the region. Rice was presiding over a lavish luncheon to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the war. The new compact modernizes the decade-old accord.

It would replace a three-presidents arrangement with a single president and point the way to a strong prime minister and a strong parliament.

Burns said Monday the idea was to have political party leaders work out the details before elections next year.

Six months ago, while Burns was in the capital of Sarajevo, a major step to reform was taken when a single defense ministry was formed out of two armies, two defense ministers and two chiefs of staff.

The agreement commits all sides to eliminate redundant offices and to clean up inefficiencies - necessary steps toward including Bosnia eventually in the European Union, which would enhance the country's economic fortunes.

The chairman of Bosnia's presidential troika, Ivo Miro Jovic, a Croat, called the current constitution an obstacle to building a modern country, the AP reports.


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