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Macedonia: EU Welcomes Peace Deal, NATO Experts In Skopje

Brussels, 14 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union today welcomed the signing of a political accord in Macedonia, as NATO experts arrived in Skopje to finalize a deal to allow the deployment of peacekeepers. The EU also urged all Macedonian political parties to support the agreement signed yesterday in Skopje.

The accord gives ethnic Albanians greater rights and is aimed at ending a nearly six-month ethnic insurgency.

A group of NATO experts arrived in Skopje today as part of efforts to underpin the political accord and to assess whether the conditions are right to send some 3,500 NATO troops to Macedonia to monitor the hand over of weapons by the ethnic Albanian fighters.

The 15-member team is due to begin work on getting the warring government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels to withdraw to the lines of cease-fire agreed in July.

The rebels -- who did not take part in the peace talks -- have made no pledge to disarm.

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson has said NATO would act swiftly once a cease-fire is in place.

"When the preconditions are all put in place, then I believe that NATO would want to move very swiftly, indeed, in order to make sure that the disarmament of the insurgents takes place quickly and completely."

Mircea Geoana, the chairman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, said yesterday that once NATO troops are deployed in Macedonia, Western efforts will begin to help the thousands of internally displaced persons return home.

"As soon as NATO will be deployed, hopefully in the next couple of days, the OSCE and European Union monitors will supervise the return of internally displaced persons, a very important operation."

Russia's Foreign Ministry called for the rebels' disarmament in a statement today, while giving a cautious welcome to the Macedonian peace deal, noting with "serious concern" that Albanian rebels were launching attacks on Macedonian forces up to the time of yesterday's signing. Today some shooting was reported near the Yugoslav border.