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Macedonia: Parliament To Debate More Rights For Albanian Minority

Skopje, 31 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Macedonia's parliament meets today in Skopje to begin a parliamentary debate on constitutional changes aimed at giving more rights to the country's ethnic Albanian minority. The constitutional changes are part of a peace plan signed earlier this month. Under the plan, the government agreed to begin the debate once ethnic Albanian rebels handed over one-third of 3,300 weapons expected by NATO.

Yesterday, President Boris Trajkovski's cabinet said conditions had been fulfilled to start the debate.

The ethnic Albanian rebel National Liberation Army (UCK) has handed in about 1,400 pieces of weaponry to NATO forces, who began a 30-day mission in Macedonia on 27 August.

Stojan Andov, chairman of the Macedonian assembly, says today's session will focus on beginning the process for making constitutional changes and should "decide to start a procedure for making changes." Approval will be needed by at least 80 percent of the members of parliament. If it is reached, the UCK will continue surrendering weapons.

The main part of the German contingent taking part in NATO's "Operation Essential Harvest" to collect rebel weapons arrived in Macedonia early today.

A military spokesman said in Skopje some 250 troops, as well as tanks and armored vehicles, arrived at the German rear base at Erebino, eight kilometers east of Tetovo.

The 147-vehicle convoy entered Macedonia from Kosovo via the Jazince border crossing.

Yesterday, four aircraft carrying German troops and supplies arrived in Skopje, one day after an advance party landed.

Germany's NATO troops began arriving in Macedonia shortly after the German parliament voted to send up to 500 soldiers to join the mission to disarm ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

Germany already has about 2,000 troops in Bosnia and 5,000 in Kosovo.