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Macedonia: Georgievski Shifts Policy On Constitution Change

Skopje, 31 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Macedonia's Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski has announced a major policy shift aimed at meeting the Albanian community's demands for equality with other Macedonians. The announcement last night came amid fresh clashes between ethnic Albanian militants and security forces in the Lipkovo district west of Kumanovo.

Georgievski said Macedonia will "probably" have to drop the preamble to its constitution, recognize Albanians as a second constitutive (statotvorni) nation and Albanian as an official language along with Macedonian, and eliminate official mention of the Macedonian Orthodox Church.

Georgievski described the proposals as "an agenda for peace." He said the government has an obligation to the international community to create a Macedonia that will satisfy Albanians.

A spokesman for the militants, Nazmi Beqiri, said changing the constitution would be a positive step toward bringing peace and stability to Macedonia.

Beqiri said the only goal of extremist fighters is to establish equal rights for ethnic Albanians. He said the militants do not want to divide the country or create a Greater Albania.

The concessions are among the main demands of the National Liberation Army and all Albanian political parties in Macedonia

In related news, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski has proposed a partial amnesty to ethnic Albanian fighters who have been waging a five-month-old insurrection.

Trajkovski proposed the amnesty in a letter to NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson. The Macedonian president's security adviser, Nikola Dimitrov, said details on the amnesty proposal would be worked out in the coming days with NATO.

The proposal comes amid reports of heavy fighting yesterday despite a lull in the army's bombardment to allow locals to flee the northern battle zone. The Reuters news agency reports tanks and artillery targeted the mainly ethnic Albanian village of Matejce as night fell, after the army said its forces came under mortar fire.

Many have fled to the neighboring village of Lipkovo, which is reportedly running out of food and medicine. The International Committee of the Red Cross said the people in Lipkovo are in a "desperate situation."

Also today, an international human rights organization has accused Macedonian security forces of violating the human rights of ethnic Albanians trying to escape fighting in the north of the country.

Human Rights Watch said that Albanian men fleeing the fighting face the possibility of severe ill-treatment by police. Director Holly Cartner said the organization had documented cases of serious beatings and torture of ethnic Albanians at the Kumanovo and Skopje police stations.

Human Rights Watch said there were some 15,000 ethnic Albanians trapped by the fighting in the Kumanovo area, and expressed concern about possible significant civilian casualties if the fighting continues.

Macedonian Defense Ministry spokesman Giorgji Trendafilov denied the report and accused Human Rights Watch of making "untimely" allegations.