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Macedonia: Officials, Rebels Sign Cease-Fire Agreements

Macedonia's government said today it has signed a NATO-brokered cease-fire with ethnic Albanian leaders of the insurgent National Liberation Army. RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegele reports that this cease-fire may hold where previous ones have failed.

Prague, 5 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- NATO signed separate but similar open-ended cease-fire agreements with the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) last night and with Macedonian authorities this morning.

Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski says the cease-fire is to take effect at one minute after midnight tonight. He says the accords provide for early parliamentary elections in November and an amnesty for insurgents who have not committed any crime during the more than four months of fighting.

Once a political agreement is reached among the country's main political parties, NATO will deploy forces in Macedonia to disarm the UCK insurgents.

There are several reasons why this cease-fire has a better chance of success than previous ones. In contrast to the cease-fire last month, which dealt mainly with the Kumanovo area, this cease-fire encompasses all of Macedonia. And previous agreements were neither negotiated by NATO nor signed by top commanders.

Army Chief of Staff Pande Petrovski and Interior Ministry General Risto Galevski signed the cease-fire for the government. The UCK's political representative, Ali Ahmeti, signed for the rebels. He signed in the southwestern Kosovo city of Prizren in the presence of NATO representative Peter Feith.

The cease-fire foresees the arrival of a NATO disarmament force as early as mid-July. Some 3,000 NATO troops from 15 countries, including U.S., British, French, Greek and Czech soldiers, are expected to participate in the 30-day operation to disarm the UCK rebels at NATO-specified arms depots.

Presidential national security adviser Nikola Dimitrov says the cease-fire "is a major step forward" that he says "will create the conditions for political dialogue and enable disarmament."

The UCK's chief of staff, General Gezim Ostreni, says the new cease-fire is more important than previous agreements because this one was brokered by the EU, U.S. and NATO leaders as a way to create conditions to resume political dialogue."

Ostreni says the rebels will abide by any political agreement as long as it provides equality for Macedonia's ethnic-Albanian community.

Albanian rebel commander Shpati described the cease-fire agreement to RFE/RL today. He says that the UCK did not ask for an amnesty but welcomes the integration of the insurgents into society:

"We should transform ourselves -- which we see as integrating ourselves into the political life of the country, the army of the future, the police, and other sectors. The agreement foresees NATO forces deployed throughout Macedonia, not just in the conflict regions. As far as the collection of arms is concerned, this will be [a] gradual [process], hand-in-hand with the political outlook."

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson and European Union foreign and security affairs chief Javier Solana issued a joint statement today welcoming the cease-fires. They reiterated that "there can be no military solution to the present conflict." They said "only a political solution can provide lasting peace and stability in the country and in the wider region."

Robertson and Solana called on all parties to respect fully the cease-fire declarations and to act with restraint in avoiding incidents that could lead to a return to violence. They urged all political parties to use the opportunity to make significant progress in political dialogue.

Robertson and Solana concluded: "The maintenance of a durable cease-fire as well as progress toward a political settlement are important conditions that must be met to pave the way for EU financial assistance and the deployment of a NATO military force to assist in the disarmament of the ethnic Albanian fighters."

Most battle fronts have been relatively calm since last night. However, army spokesman Colonel Blagoja Markovski says UCK rebels and government forces clashed for more than seven hours overnight at Slupcane and Opae, west of Kumanovo.

There was heavy fighting yesterday near the western city of Tetovo, resulting in wounds sustained by Macedonian construction workers. Fighting also continued yesterday in the Sar Mountains behind Tetovo, following a push by the UCK earlier this week into ethnically mixed villages northwest of the city. There were also several reports this week of Macedonian police destroying Albanian homes and of the UCK forcing Macedonians to leave their homes.

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski announced yesterday that following two days of talks with special envoys from the United States, James Pardew, and the EU, Francois Leotard, the country's main political parties had agreed on proposals by French constitutional expert Robert Badinter as a basis for further negotiations.

"Mr. Badinter's ideas, which the international community has also supported, will be the basis for meetings of local and foreign experts on proposing ideas on all the relevant issues, which are going to begin as soon as today."

Trajkovski said this expert debate will include representatives of his office, party representatives, and other foreign experts, who will be preparing a draft paper. The paper will then be presented to the president, the four main political parties, and to the EU and U.S. envoys for further consideration.

Trajkovski rejected Greece's call for an international conference on Macedonia, saying "the solution to the crisis should be sought and found in the Republic of Macedonia through talks with the democratic political leaders." These are the four main parties in the government, Prime Minister and VMRO-DPMNE chief Ljubco Georgievski, the Social Democrats' Branko Crvenkovski, the Democratic Party of Albanians' (PDSh) Arben Xhaferi, and the Party for Democratic Prosperity's (PDP) Imer Imeri.

Last weekend, Badinter was reported to have discouraged Albanian demands for a constitutionally backed veto right that would enable Albanian parties to override parliamentary decisions that affect the Albanian community. Badinter argued the veto runs counter to current trends.

However, PDSh chairman Xhaferi told the AP yesterday that he would continue to fight for the veto right. Similarly, Aziz Pollozhani, the deputy chairman of the other main Albanian Party in Macedonia, PPD, says Badinter's approach is based on treating Albanians in Macedonia as a minority rather than as an equal community. Estimates of the percentage of Albanians among Macedonia's two million inhabitants range from 22 to 40 percent.