Bosnia Muslims, Serbs agree on key reform-report

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SARAJEVO, Sep 28 (Reuters) Bosnia's Muslim and Serb leaders today reached agreement on police reform, a key requirement for Bosnia to sign a pre-accession accord with the European Union after years of delay.

''We have come to an agreement today and I hope that its content would be sufficient for the European Union to decide to sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with us,'' Bosnian Muslim leader Haris Silajdzic told his party congress.

Since the end of the 1992-95 war, Bosnia has been divided into the Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat federation, each with their separate police force.

Bosnia's international peace envoy, Miroslav Lajcak, and other EU officials had warned the rival leaders earlier this month they needed to finally agree on reforming the country's ethnically separate police forces, or risk isolation.

Silajdzic said that he and his political rival Milorad Dodik, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, had signed a protocol on the police reform that was in line with plan proposed earlier by Lajcak.

''This agreement does not answer all questions, but we want the police reform and of course we want to reform Bosnia-Herzegovina,'' said Silajdzic, who first rejected Lajcak's reform proposal as unacceptable.

''If we decided otherwise, we would have decided against a European future,'' he added.

Dodik was unavailable for comment.

LONG ROAD The European Union has insisted the police be organised at the state level, financed from a single budget and free of political bias.

It made the reform a key condition for Bosnia to sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), the first step on the long road to full membership of the EU.

Lajcak's office conirmed it had received the Dodik-Silajdzic protocol, which would be studied by the relevant EU institutions.

The office advised caution.

''We would urge everyone to refrain from interpreting the document as only the European Commission can give an opinion whether this document is in line with the three priniciples,'' Lajcak's spokesman told Reuters.

Bosnian Muslims first rejected Lajcak's plan, saying it fell short of unifying the ethnically separate police forces. The Serbs said they would not give up their own force.

Experts representing their respective political parties had earlier on Friday failed to agree on the technical criteria for the reform.

But Silajdzic said that leaders realised they needed to pursue reforms in order to achieve their common goal of a European future for Bosnia: ''We have done everything possible at this moment.'' Reuters AE DB2234

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