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Macedonia: NATO Brokers Cease-Fire Pacts

Skopje, 5 July 2001 -- Macedonian forces and Albanian rebels signed an indefinite NATO-brokered cease-fire today. The separate truce agreements take effect at midnight tonight.

An Albanian rebel leader called Shapti said the agreements could lead to the peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflict that has shaken Macedonia for five months.

"This agreement is about stopping all hostile actions and to give space to a peaceful solution."

EU envoy Francois Leotard and U.S. envoy James Pardew said the cease-fire is an important step towards the political resolution of the crisis.

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in a joint statement in Brussels that they strongly welcome the cease-fire. They called upon all parties to fully respect it.

The open-ended cease-fire accords come after President Boris Trajkovski said yesterday that Macedonia's major Slavic and Albanian parties have agreed to start talks on constitutional reforms. The talks aim at better protecting the rights of the country's ethnic-Albanian minority.

NATO has offered to send 3,000 troops to Macedonia to help disarm rebel fighters if the cease-fire holds and a political reform deal is reached.