EU, US to press Bosnia for reform

SARAJEVO: Bosnian leaders were to meet here on Friday with senior EU and US officials to discuss reforming the country's constitution and unblocking a political stalemate, the worst since the 1992-1995 war.

Brussels and Washington unexpectedly announced the meeting last week expressing their serious concern about the political deadlock and need to resume progress towards European integration.

Friday's talks will be run by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the EU presidency until the end of the year, and US Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg.

It follows a visit in May by US Vice President Joe Biden and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who said they gave Bosnian leaders an "electric shock" to shape up on reforms.

Bildt and Steinberg said in an open letter to Bosnian citizens on the eve of the meeting the "fundamental issues" to be discussed are "completion (of the conditions) for the closure of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) ... and constitutional changes to achieve functionality and efficiency of government structures."

The High Representative a position created under the peace deal that ended Bosnia's 1992-1995 war has the power to impose laws and sack obstructive local officials.

Conditions for the OHR closure include the international community's positive assessment of the situation in ethnically-divided Bosnia.

Since the 1992-1995 war Bosnia has consisted of two semi-independent entities the Serbs' Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation linked with weak central institutions.

In a bid to make the country more functional and bring it closer to Europe the international community has been insisting on strengthening the central institutions at the expense of the ethnic entities and reforming the constitution.

The attempt is exacerbating tensions as the Serbs refuse any modifications that might reduce their autonomy.

Analysts say that the political climate in Bosnia where inter-ethnic war left at least 100,000 people dead and more than two million homeless has deteriorated so much that only a strong push by the international community could make local leaders reach an agreement on reforms.