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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bosnian Leaders Sign New Accord

WASHINGTON -- With the three presidents of an ethnically divided Bosnia seated before her, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sounded cautiously hopeful about the future of peace in the Balkans.

Leaders of Bosnia's three major ethnic factions agreed Tuesday to consolidate power in a stronger national government a decade after the end of their civil war, Europe's bloodiest fighting since World War II.

Rice heralded the Balkan accord struck in Washington but warned that international patience had run out for those who let war crimes suspects walk freely in Bosnia, mainly its sector populated by Serbs.

She noted with approval that leaders of the Serb community stated publicly that they were committed to arresting and turning over two notorious indicted war criminals.

"These are encouraging words, and now they must lead to serious action," Rice said at a State Department luncheon celebrating the 10th anniversary of a U.S.-brokered peace settlement. "There can be no more excuses and no more delays. Ten years is long enough."

The 1995 agreement signed in Dayton, Ohio, ended a three-year civil war by allowing Serbs, Croats and Muslims to preside over separate political spheres in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The result was an inefficient, three-headed government that Rice said was appropriate for its day but was now outmoded. Three presidents shuffle the leadership every eight months. The nation of 4 million people -- about the size of Los Angeles -- has 14 education departments.

"Today, Bosnia-Herzegovina is joining the international community," Rice said.

Tuesday's agreement commits Bosnian leaders to revamp the national constitution by next March, with an eye to joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union.

European nations have told the Bosnians they have little hope of joining the EU -- with its trade, border, economic and political advantages -- under the country's current constitution.

Ivo Miro Jovic, chairman of Bosnia's three-president arrangement, spoke after Rice at the luncheon.

"This key that opens this door of the future has been given to us, but only if we know how to use it and open the door," he said through a translator.

The accord marks the second time this month that Rice has applied U.S. pressure to secure incremental agreements among former enemies. Last week in Jerusalem, she put the finishing touches to an Israeli-Palestinian pact that opens the borders of the Gaza Strip.

The Bosnian conflict began out of the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia and resulted in the deaths of 260,000 people and drove 1.8 million from their homes.

The war stunned Europe and the United States, which were slow to get involved and watched while an educated, Western-looking nation was shredded along centuries-old ethnic and religious lines.

"We will never forget the massacre at Srebenica," Rice said Tuesday, referring to the Bosnian-Serb slaughter of 7,500 Muslims in July 1995. The killings galvanized international will to end the war.

"America's position is clear and uncompromising," she said. "Every Balkan country must arrest its indicted war criminals or it will have no future in NATO."