updated 11/22/2005 10:40:18 AM ET 2005-11-22T15:40:18

Leaders of Bosnia’s three major ethnic groups have reached an accord designed to unify the beleaguered Balkan state by remaking the government’s constitutional structure, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday.

A decade after a bloody three-year war gave way to an ethnically divided and partitioned government, an agreement to overhaul the constitutional structure was signed Monday night after three days of negotiations overseen by U.S. diplomats, said the official, who declined to be identified because a formal announcement was expected by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

A statement signed by representatives of the Croats, Serbs and Muslim political groups commits the parties to work out the details by March 2006, the official said.

The agreement was in line with a framework proposed last month by Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns during a trip to the region. Rice was presiding over a lavish luncheon to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the war. The new compact modernizes the decade-old accord.

It would replace a three-presidents arrangement with a single president and hopefully point the way to a strong prime minister and a strong parliament.

Burns said Monday the idea was to have political party leaders work out the details before elections next year.

Six months ago, while Burns was in the capital of Sarajevo, a major step to reform was taken when a single defense ministry was formed out of two armies, two defense ministers and two chiefs of staff.

The agreement commits all sides to eliminate redundant offices and to clean up inefficiencies — necessary steps toward including Bosnia eventually in the European Union, which would enhance the country’s economic fortunes.

For Rice, the accord represents a double-fisted diplomatic triumph. Only last week, in Jerusalem, she applied the finishing touches to an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that opens the borders of Gaza and eases movement by Palestinians.

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