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Bosnian Leaders Vow Constitutional Reform, Pursuit of War Criminals

22 November 2005

Leaders of the three main ethnic groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina have pledged to work for sweeping constitutional reforms. The Bosnian leaders made the pledge in Washington where they have been marking the 10th anniversary of the Dayton peace accords that ended the conflict. Bosnian Serb leaders also pledged their determination to arrest top Balkans war crimes fugitives.

The anniversary meetings here were more than ceremonial and produced a commitment by the three Bosnian parties, at the urging of the United States, to strengthen the country's central government.

Leaders of the Bosnian Muslim, Croat and Serb communities huddled with top U.S. diplomats early Tuesday and reached an agreement only a few hours before the ceremonial events.

In a joint statement, they said they had decided on a process of constitutional reform that will enhance the authority of the central government and streamline the parliament and the office of the presidency, now a cumbersome three-way rotational arrangement.

The document, signed by the three current members of the presidency and other top political figures, commits the parties to work out the details by March of next year.

In addition, the Bosnian Serb leadership, in an unprecedented statement, called for the surrender of wartime Bosnia Serb President Radovan Karadzic and his military leader Ratko Mladic, the two most prominent Balkans war crimes indictees still at large.

They said if the two men continue to refuse to surrender, the Bosnian Serb political entity, the Republika Srpska, is prepared to take all possible measures and actions to find and apprehend them.

Both men are wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on charges of crimes against humanity, including the 1995 murder of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, Europe's worst massacre since the Nazi era.

At a luncheon event with the Bosnian leaders, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed their commitment to constitutional reform.

She said a weak, and divided central government in Sarajevo was appropriate when the Dayton accords were signed in 1995, but not today as the country looks to full integration with the Euro-Atlantic community.

At the same time, she warned that the goal cannot be achieved, and the United States will block NATO membership for Bosnia-Herzegovina, as long as Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic remain at large:

"America's position is clear and uncompromising," said Condoleezza Rice. "Every Balkan country must arrest its indicted war criminals, or it will have no future in NATO. I am pleased that earlier today, the leaders of Bosnia's Serb community stated publicly their unequivocal commitment to the capture, arrest and transfer to the Hague of Mladic and Karadzic. These are encouraging words, and now they must lead to serious action. There can be no more excuses and no more delays. Ten years is long enough.

A senior U.S. diplomat told reporters the Bosnian Serb declaration changes the political climate in the Republika Serpska, depriving the two wanted men of hero status and putting pressure on those who may be sheltering them to turn them over to authorities.

The diplomat said U.S. officials believe that Radovan Karadzic has been spending time in both the Bosnian Serb entity and in Serbia itself, hidden away from authorities by Serb nationalist hardliners.

U.S. officials have said Ratko Mladic has been similarly protected, and may have spent time recently at an underground bunker complex in the Republika Serpska that he used as a headquarters during the war.

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