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Macedonia: NATO Forces Ready To Act As Peacekeepers

Ohrid, Macedonia; 6 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A NATO spokesman says the alliance can quickly deploy up to 3,500 soldiers in Macedonia to help disarm ethnic Albanian extremists, but only after a framework peace deal is accepted by both the parliament and insurgents. The spokesman, Major Barry Johnson, said in Skopje today that British soldiers would likely lead the peacekeeping mission once the final details of the framework agreement are resolved.

"Before the troops can be deployed, certain conditions must be met to include an unconditional and open-ended cease-fire, the signing of a framework document and its annexes by the government's political parties and a technical agreement with [ethnic Albanian fighters in] the UCK (National Liberation Army) to voluntarily hand over their weapons."

Leaders of the country's main political parties reconvened talks in Ohrid, southern Macedonia, today after reaching agreement on the two most contentious issues -- making Albanian an official language in parts of Macedonia and giving ethnic Albanians greater representation on the country's police forces.

Yet to be resolved is the question of whether ethnic Albanian fighters will be granted a full amnesty under the accord.

The EU's chief mediator at the talks, Francois Leotard, says the framework agreement could be finalized today or tomorrow.

As Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political leaders reconvened in Ohrid today to attempt to finalize a peace agreement, a representative for the ethnic Albanian minority, Zehir Bekteshi, said, "We now have much, much better chances for a final agreement."

The rival sides are believed to have only a few points to agree on before signing an agreement.

(For more on this story, please see the related analysis: Macedonia: Talks Make Progress Toward Peace Deal.)