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Macedonia: Hostages Released, Reform Debate Restarted

Skopje, 12 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Macedonian parliamentary speaker Stojan Andov today said that all Macedonians who had yesterday either been abducted or taken hostage by ethnic Albanian rebels were released, and that an ethnic Albanian party had ceased its boycott of parliament and debate on reforms would go forward tomorrow. Yesterday, the rebels killed three members of a special police force who charged into an area inhabited by the rebels and their sympathizers. The rebels also took a number of hostages.

The underground rebel Albanian National Army claimed responsibility, saying in a statement that the killing and abductions were in retaliation for the Macedonian government moves "restarting its terror."

Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski blamed what he called the "international community" for the incident.

"Until now everything has been a classic farce -- a farce that someone will have to be responsible for, a farce prepared by the international community and I think that, with the killing of these security forces officers, of these sons of Macedonia, we must not fall into depression. We have to prepare ourselves either to deal with this banditry once and for all or to admit that we cannot handle it and ask for help."

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson today urged "all involved" to show restraint.

Andov says the parliament will meet tomorrow to begin discussing constitutional changes, following a decision by the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity to drop its boycott of the debate.

The changes are designed to provide ethnic minorities in Macedonia with enhanced civil rights. The Albanian party objected to some formulations in the proposed changes.

The changes form part of a peace deal with the rebels, who agreed to lay down arms in return for the recognition of civil rights for ethnic Albanians. Today was the deadline for Macedonia's parliament to ratify constitutional amendments improving the rights of minorities.