September 26, 1995
Web posted at: 7:00 pm EDT (2300 GMT)
NEW YORK (CNN) -- In a major step towards a final peace agreement, Bosnian Serb, Croat and Muslim officials agreed Tuesday on constitutional principles guiding a new national government for Bosnia-Herzegovina.(345K AIFF sound or 345K WAV sound)
The agreement establishes that Bosnia-Herzegovina would remain a single nation with a central government with a presidency, a parliament and a constitutional court.(298K AIFF sound or 298K WAV sound)
The warring parties also agreed to hold free and democratic national elections under international supervision and allow the central government to conduct foreign policy.
"The American people must realize there are many difficult obstacles still overcome along the path to peace," President Clinton said Tuesday during a press conference announcing the agreement.(151K AIFF sound or 151K WAV sound) "There is no guarantee of success, but today's agreement moves us closer to the ultimate goal of a genuine peace, and it makes clear Bosnia will remain a single, internationally recognized state. (199K AIFF sound or 199K WAV sound)
"America will strongly oppose the partition of Bosnia and America will continue working for peace," he said. "We hope the progress we are making finally reflects the will of the parties to end this terrible war."
U.S. officials will head to Sarajevo Thursday for further talks. Still to be resolved: an agreement on a cease-fire and a final division of territory.
Before the New York talks began, Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic warned of more destruction if the peace talks fail. Speaking from Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina, he blamed the West for encouraging a recent Croat-Muslim offensive that reduced Serb-held territory in Bosnia and sent thousands of refugees fleeing to the northwestern Serb stronghold of Banja Luka.
Tuesday's agreement was reached in New York under the direction of chief U.S. negotiator Richard Holbrooke. The talks included representatives from France, Russia, Britain and Germany as well as from the warring parties.
President Clinton has pledged up to 25,000 U.S. troops to enforce a final peace agreement. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole has criticized the administration's willingness to deploy troops to Bosnia. Clinton defended his position Tuesday.
"I have said since February of 1993 that the United States should participate in implementing a peace agreement," he said. "The United States is the leader of NATO. No peace agreement could be fairly implemented without the involvement of NATO, and we cannot walk away from our responsibility to try to end this terrible conflict." (173K AIFF sound or 173 WAV sound)
In a sign of good will, the Bosnian government and the Serbs exchanged 34 prisoners of war Tuesday at Sarajevo's airport. It was the first such exchange in six months. A larger prisoner swap is scheduled for next week.
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