European Union (EU) foreign ministers on Monday authorized the start of negotiations on an agreement to prepare Bosnia-Herzegovina for EU membership.
The decision came on the eve of ceremonies in Washington marking the 10th anniversary of the peace agreement that ended Bosnia's 1992-95 war. The EU said negotiations on the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) would start Friday in Sarajevo.
"The opening of negotiations marks a historic moment in Bosnia and Herzegovina's development," the ministers said in a statement.
The EU also extended the mandate of its 6,500-strong peacekeeping mission in Bosnia through next year and said force levels should remain "broadly unchanged."
However, an agreement that the EU's police mission will focus on helping the Bosnian force tackle corruption and organized crime will likely see the number of officers cut by about half to around 150.
Bosnia-Herzegovina has lagged behind the other former Yugoslav nations in drawing closer to the EU.
Slovenia joined the bloc last year; Croatia started formal membership talks last month; Macedonia has already concluded a SAA agreement and Serbia-Montenegro started negotiations on a similar pre-membership deal this month.
Bosnia-Herzegovina's wartime legacy has held the country back, with the EU seeking greater cooperation in the hunt for war crimes suspects and greater unity among the country's Croat, Serb and Muslim communities.
The ministers said they now expected "decisive action" from the Bosnian authorities to bring Bosnian Serb war leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.