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U.S. "Disappointed" by Defeat of Bosnian Constitutional Reforms

Some opponents concerned that proposals did not end ethnic division

By Vince Crawley | Washington File Staff Writer | 28 April 2006

Washington -- The United States has expressed disappointment that Bosnia’s parliament on April 26 rejected constitutional amendments to create a single presidency, but some opponents of the measures said the reforms did not go far enough and would have left the country divided along ethnic lines.

“The United States is disappointed that the Bosnian parliament failed to pass landmark amendments to the constitution, a reform that is vitally important for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the State Department said April 27, responding to a question taken at the daily press briefing. (See related article.)

“We commend the Bosnians who led this process and who had the courage to make tough decisions and tough compromises,” the statement said.

When a Bosnian government delegation visited the United States in November 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strongly urged them to reform their constitution and create a stronger central government that would assume much of the powers now split between two ethnic enclaves. The 1995 Dayton Peace Accord divided the country along ethnic lines, with Bosnian Serbs controlling 49 percent the territory and a Bosniak (Muslim)-Croat federation controlling 51 percent of the territory. The arrangement includes a three-person presidency divided along ethnic lines. (See related article.)

A strong majority – 26 delegates – in Bosnia’s House of Representatives supported the constitutional amendments and voted for the reform. But the measure fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority required to pass.

“These results prove that change for the better is not only possible in this country, but deeply desired,” the State Department statement said.

“The 16 delegates who voted against these amendments fought for the status quo that maintains inefficiency and ethnic separation, which only delays Bosnia and Herzegovina's full Euro-Atlantic integration,” the U.S. statement said.

However, news reports from the region said some of the delegates who voted against the measures believed they did not go far enough and would have split the country permanently on ethnic lines.

A leading critic of the constitutional amendments in their current form -- Haris Silajdzic, the country’s former prime minister and former foreign minister -- told reporters that their defeat would allow time to negotiate constitutional reforms that more fully unify the country.

High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling of Germany, the international administrator in Bosnia, said the parliament’s defeat of the reforms “sends a negative signal to Europe, the United States and the entire international community.”

U.S. Ambassador Douglas McElhaney “expressed strong disappointment” over the outcome of the parliamentary voting, according to news reports.  U.S. and international diplomats said the proposed amendments were the result of months of difficult compromise, and the international community has hoped to see the constitution amended in time for October elections.

The State Department statement said the United States will continue to “stand with the overwhelming majority of Bosnian citizens” who favor a “fully functional” system of government.

“We will continue to encourage Bosnia and Herzegovina to make the reforms necessary to realize its goal of full Euro-Atlantic integration,” the statement said. “We will stand with the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a firm partner for reform and firm opponent of the status quo, both now and in the future.”

More than 100,000 people died in the country’s 1992-1995 war. The United States played a leading role in ending the conflict, negotiating a peace agreement in Dayton, Ohio, and deploying tens of thousands of troops as peacekeepers. Today, a European Union force patrols Bosnia, but a small contingent of U.S. military personnel continues to serve in headquarters and support positions.

For more information, see Southeast Europe.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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