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Macedonia: Negotiations Falter As Violence Flares

Talks among the leaders of Macedonia's main political parties -- both ethnic Macedonian and ethnic Albanian -- appear to be making little progress on questions of legal and constitutional reform. At the same time, RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports that a firefight with Albanian rebels on the border with Kosovo has left a Macedonian soldier seriously wounded and has shaken the week-old cease-fire.

Prague, 12 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S.- and European Union-mediated talks in Skopje on reshaping Macedonia's constitutional system hit a snag last night at the end of the third day of negotiations among the leaders of Macedonia's four major parties and President Boris Trajkovski.

The two main ethnic Albanian parties are reported to have proposed some 50 amendments to the international community's proposed framework document. Trajkovski is said to be outraged.

Among the new Albanian demands are the establishment of a second chamber of parliament and greater control over the police force through the mass hiring of Albanians. These are provisos in addition to the already long-standing demands for equal status for the Albanian language and equal rights for Albanians in all walks of life.

Both the ethnic Macedonian parties and international mediators have ruled out demands by the Albanians for the right to a legislative veto, considering it a recipe for legislative blockage. They have asked for the appointment of an Albanian vice president who in effect could overrule any law perceived not to be in the interests of the country's Albanian community, which represents perhaps one-third of the national population of two million.

U.S. mediator James Pardew's spokeswoman, Aggie Kuperman, would only say today that the talks are intense, are continuing, and that "all participants are on board [cooperating] and working constructively." Pardew, who is the U.S. special envoy to Macedonia, his EU counterpart Francois Leotard, and several Western legal and constitutional experts are assisting the rival parties in working out what one unnamed diplomat calls a "feasible deal." Once a deal is reached, some 3,000 NATO troops would be deployed in Macedonia to disarm the ethnic Albanian fighters at designated arms collection points.

A senior member of one of the two main Albanian parties, parliamentarian Naser Zyberi of the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), was quite open about his group's aims in comments last night to RFE/RL's Albanian unit.

"I'm moderately optimistic, [first,] that every proposed change will advance the position of the Albanians in terms of dimension and quality."

But PPD's Abdylhadi Vejseli described the talks as difficult and notes that the Macedonian parties are refusing to accept calls for Albanians to be granted a constituent nation status along with the Macedonians. He is calling for the rebels to join the talks as direct participants -- anathema for the Macedonian parties.

At present, leaders of the National Liberation Army, or UCK, have only a consultative role. On occasion they meet in Kosovo with intermediaries from the international community, who have been shuttling across the border.

Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSh) leader Arben Xhaferi's chief aid in the talks, Deputy Prime Minister Xhevdet Nasufi, was a bit more cautious in his remarks.

"There is an atmosphere of cooperation in all sectors [in the talks]. But this does not guarantee that the end result will be positive. Conducting a dialogue is [only] one element of the solution to the deep constitutional crisis. I think we need to be clear-headed about taking responsibility for solving this successfully."

Today's independent daily "Dnevnik" asks whether Pardew and Leotard are being soft on the Albanians in a bid to win the signatures of the PDSh and PPD leaders on a deal. The paper says the Albanian political leaders in Skopje are able to use territory newly occupied by the UCK to blackmail the Macedonian party leaders and to hamper the international mediators.

Meanwhile, a group of Albanian rebels allegedly forced their way over the border from Kosovo last night, near the Macedonian village of Tanusevci in the Skopje Black Mountains, and were soon engaged in a firefight with Macedonian security forces. One Macedonian soldier was seriously wounded, suffering critical head and abdominal injuries.

Tanusevci is where the ethnic Albanian fighters first appeared five months ago and where a month later U.S.-led KFOR peacekeepers fired at Albanian rebels for having pointed their weapons at the peacekeepers.

According to a statement released today by KFOR at U.S. Camp Bondsteel in southern Kosovo, the Macedonian soldier wounded last night was moved to a KFOR observation post, where he was given first aid and then flown by helicopter to a military hospital in Skopje.

U.S. KFOR spokesman Major Randy Martin says, "Our soldiers, medics and pilots were at the right place at the right time to help save this soldier's life." But it is unclear whether the KFOR troops stationed on the border across from Tanusevci, in the Kosovo villages of Mijak and Debelde, made any effort to prevent the rebel group from crossing into Macedonia.