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US Diplomat Optimistic About Bosnian Constitutional Reforms

Donald Hays, former deputy administrator of Bosnia-Herzegovina, says the constitutional reforms agreed to March 18tby seven political parties in that country can convert the fragmented, largely dysfunctional government into a more unified and efficient entity.

Hays worked behind the scenes for a year facilitating the multi-ethnic talks that resulted in last week's package of constitutional reforms. Its central feature is strengthening the post of prime minister and diminishing the presidency, which rotates among Bosnia's often feuding Muslims, Serbs and Croats.

Hays, who is diplomat in residence at Washington's government funded U.S. Institute of Peace, says the reforms, if approved by legislatures, would give Bosnia the opportunity to have a functioning government. "They de-conflict the roles of parliament, president and the government itself. They strengthen the role of the prime minister and reduce the role of the presidency. And that allows the prime minister to take a significant degree of responsibility for the functioning of governance in that country," he said.

The U.S. brokered Dayton agreement of 1995 legitimized two entities in Bosnia - a Muslim-Croat federation based in Sarajevo and an ethnic Serbian entity based in Banja Luka. Until recently Bosnia had two armies and multiple police forces as well as duplicative government ministries. The European Union agreed in November to begin preliminary membership negotiations only because Bosnia took steps towards national unity.

Hays, a former deputy international administrator in Bosnia, dismisses the prospect that the Bosnian Serb entity may seek to join Serbia proper. "The legal issue [answer] is no. They [the Bosnian Serbs] are part of a sovereign state. There is no provision [in the constitution] for elements of the state to leave as a portion of the country and join another country," he said.

Bosnian leaders, meeting in Washington last November to mark the 10th anniversary of the Dayton agreement that ended the country's civil war, committed themselves to constitutional reform. Parliamentary elections are expected to take place in October.