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US Official: Bosnia's Dayton Peace Accord Must be 'Modernized'

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns is urging Bosnia's leaders to agree to constitutional reforms, he says will help unify the still-fractured country. He spoke Tuesday at a conference in Washington to mark the 10th anniversary of the peace deal that ended Bosnia's war.

Ten years ago, the parties fighting the bloody Bosnian war were brought together in Dayton, Ohio, to finalize a peace agreement that established Bosnia-Herzegovina as a union of two entities, a Muslim-Croat federation and a Bosnian Serb Republic.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns says the agreement was necessary to stop the fighting. But he said it cemented a division he says now makes it difficult for Bosnia-Herzegovina to become a unified country.

"Dayton established a state with internal divisions, internal Berlin Walls separating one community from another, because that was the only way to stop the war and to build a tentative and fragile peace," said Mr. Burns. "Ten years later, these internal walls must now be torn down. The country's people -- the Croats, and the Serbs, and the Muslims -- must be allowed to mix."

Undersecretary Burns urged Bosnian leaders to agree to constitutional reforms in a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday.

The U.S. official outlined a bleak future for Bosnia-Herzegovina, if the leaders do not agree on constitutional reforms.

"It will mean that there's no horizon for the country, that there's no prospect of joining the European Union, that there's no prospect of coming into NATO, to achieve the security that you've not had since Yugoslavia broke up," he noted. "Bosnia can't remain a fractured state and think that it can become part of a unified Europe or a unified NATO."

The European Union says it plans to begin talks with Bosnia-Herzegovina on Friday on an accord to move the country closer to EU membership.

Mr. Burns emphasized that an agreement on constitutional reforms at this point indicates intention, but working out the details will require hard bargaining.

"They will be hard-fought, and they will be argued over for months to come. We're asking them [the Bosnian leaders] tomorrow to state, 'our ambition is a future unified state. We declare ourselves united in seeking that ambition. We will negotiate the details of that in the coming months.' That is what we've asked," he added.

The current chairman of Bosnia's three-person presidency, Ivo Miro Jovic, indicated he is in favor of constitutional reforms. But he added that Bosnia-Herzegovina needs continued encouragement from the international community. He spoke through an interpreter.

"In order to create a democratic and functioning state, we are asking the Americans and Europeans to strongly support the constitutional changes that will make Bosnia-Herzegovina a democratic state, and a secular state at the same time. The peoples and citizens will have normal and equal conditions for their education and work," said Mr. Jovic.

Meanwhile, Undersecretary Burns pointed to what he called the "most pernicious and debilitating legacy of the past decade, the fact that war criminals are still at large." He said Washington believes the Bosnian Serb government and the government of Serbia-Montenegro in Belgrade bear responsibility for arresting the Bosnian Serb wartime leader, Radovan Karadzic, and his military commander, Ratko Mladic. Both have been indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague for war crimes.

"The United States position on war criminals is uncompromising. We will not support Bosnia-Herzegovina or Serbia-Montenegro in NATO's Partnership for Peace [program] until this problem is resolved. It's that simple," Mr. Burns added.

Besides meeting with Bosnian leaders at the State Department Tuesday, Secretary Rice hosts a luncheon to mark the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accord. She and Presidential chairman Jovic also participate in a wreath-laying ceremony to honor three U.S. diplomats killed in Bosnia in 1995.