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Macedonia: NATO Considers Deployment As Interethnic Talks Stall

Representatives of NATO's 19 member states have announced a preliminary decision to deploy troops in Macedonia in order to bolster any peace accord reached in Skopje. But the tentative decision depends on whether a peace agreement is reached -- and Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski says talks between parties in the multiethnic government are not going well. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz brings us up to date.

Prague, 20 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Peace talks among Macedonia's main political parties appear stalled today despite heavy foreign pressure for an agreement that would resolve the country's interethnic crisis.

Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said last night that negotiations among elected ethnic Albanian and Macedonian leaders are not going well. He said the negotiators have "pulled the talks in two different directions."

In what could be an effort to help break the stalemate, NATO today announced that it is ready to send troops to Macedonia to help disarm the ethnic Albanian fighters who have been fighting government troops since February.

NATO officials say that up to 3,000 NATO troops could be sent to Macedonia. The alliance insists that its troops will not be involved in military actions.

But NATO forces can only be deployed in Macedonia if all the elected parties in Skopje's multiethnic government agree to the alliance's presence as a way to help avert civil war.

Javier Solana, the European Union's security and foreign policy chief, said in Brussels today that the main task for NATO troops would be to help build confidence in any peace plan by overseeing the disarming of extremists.

Solana also signaled the EU's readiness to send observers to Macedonia to enhance confidence-building measures between ethnic Albanians and Macedonian Slavs. He said any EU observers would work in cooperation with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which already has a mission headquartered in Skopje.

Commenting on Skopje's ongoing political talks, Solana said that the negotiations during the past week have been a positive step toward a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.

"I think it was a great step forward, although there are still no concrete agreements. But at least there is the recognition that all these questions should be dealt with -- and dealt with quickly."

News reports say the talks in Skopje are stalled over several demands by ethnic Albanian politicians. One of them is for an Albanian representative in the cabinet who would have broad authority within the government.

Macedonian politicians oppose such a move, and also oppose a demand that the ethnic Albanian community be elevated to the status of a constitutive nation. Cedomir Kraljevski, a negotiator for Prime Minister Georgievski's VMRO-DPMNE party, says that accepting this demand would be an irreversible step toward the federalization of the country.

Many Macedonians see federalization as a move toward partition -- and ultimately, independence -- for the western and northern parts of the country, where large numbers of ethnic Albanians live.

Other demands by ethnic Albanian negotiators are for Albanian to become a second official language and for the constitution to be changed so that ethnic Albanians are considered as one of the republic's constituent peoples. The constitution's preamble now says that Albanians are one of several minorities that exist within a country of "the Macedonian people."

A peace plan drafted last week by Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski calls for a cease-fire, an amnesty for most extremists who voluntarily disarm, and the inclusion of ethnic Albanians in state bodies and institutions.

Skopje's political leaders also have agreed to open a debate on how changes to the constitution might resolve the ethnic crisis.

But even if the country's political leadership reaches an accord, there are questions about whether ethnic Albanian fighters would surrender their weapons.

Nazmi Beqiri, a spokesman for the fighters, said yesterday that they will not accept proposals for them to disarm -- even if NATO troops were to collect their weapons.

Henryk Sokalski is a former Polish diplomat who headed a United Nations monitoring mission in Macedonia from 1995 to 1998. In a talk with RFE/RL today, he emphasized that agreement among the political parties in the multiethnic government is essential to a political resolution of the interethnic crisis.

"I don't think it can [be resolved] without a conclusive agreement. This is an extremely delicate moment in Macedonian history. And I'm quite sure that the politicians realize it full well. The alternative is unimaginable -- and I don't even want to talk about it."

Sokalski says he thinks a commitment from NATO to deploy troops on the Macedonian side of the border with Kosovo could help the negotiators in Skopje reach a compromise.

"The ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians are now working on an historic compromise. Historic compromises do not happen overnight. An international presence in Macedonia, especially along the borders, would be an important factor supporting this historic compromise -- which has to be elaborated."

Both the government and ethnic Albanian extremists declared a cease-fire in the fighting nine days ago. But there have been almost daily exchanges of fire by both sides in the northern villages near the city of Kumanovo.