SARAJEVO: Bosnians cautious but hopeful after their leaders agree to modernize the constitution

Bosnians were cautious but hopeful Tuesday after hearing their leaders agreed in Washington to change the constitution in order to make the country more functional and prepare it for eventual membership with the European Union.

Exactly a decade after the United States brokered the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended Bosnia's 1992-95 war, Bosnia's Muslim, Serb and Croat leaders signed a statement in Washington committing themselves to remake Bosnia's constitution. The agreement, leaving details until later, followed three days of U.S.- mediated negotiations.

The statement was obtained by the Associated Press in Washington. A formal announcement by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was expected later Tuesday. Bosnian Muslim representative at the talks in Washington, Sulejman Tihic, told Sarajevo Television that all the leaders there "have confirmed their determination to begin the changes of the constitution. This is the first step of the many steps that are to follow."

Not knowing what exactly their leaders are ready to change, citizens as well as analysts here welcomed the commitment for changes but there was no euphoria. The peace agreement divided the country on an ethnic basis and created a complicated political setup with several expensive and overlapping layers of government. The agreement proved to be good enough to end the fighting but not to turn Bosnia into a functional state.

Now Bosnia's leaders say they are ready to modernize the decade-old accord by replacing a three-presidents arrangement with a single president and hopefully point the way to a strong prime minister and a strong parliament. The details of the changes will be worked out by March 2006.

Toni Prlenda, a political analyst from Sarajevo, believes the leaders' commitment is a "step forward in strengthening this country but it remains to be seen when and how this will be implemented and whether it will in the end be enough to satisfy the EU criteria."

The European Union will start negotiations about a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Bosnia, which is seen as the first step on the country's path toward EU membership, the AP reports. But the EU already said Bosnia's constitution does not fit EU criteria and needs to be changed.


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