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Macedonia: Fresh Violence Casts Pall Over Peace Talks

Peace talks between Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political leaders are continuing today after an attack on the country's interior minister that has been blamed on ethnic Albanian gunmen. No one was injured in the ambush. But RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz reports the violence has raised concerns about whether a fragile cease-fire can hold long enough for negotiators to resolve the differences over the use of Albanian as an official language.

Prague, 30 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- An attack on the motorcade of Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski yesterday has cast a pall over peace talks between the country's political leaders.

Boskovski blames the attack on ethnic Albanian extremists. He says it is a major violation of a Western-brokered cease-fire that was declared to give negotiators a chance to reach a political solution to Macedonia's ethnic conflict.

In a statement that has raised concerns about the fragile cease-fire, Boskovski called on police and army troops to establish control over all Macedonian territory.

A third day of meetings in the latest round of talks near the southwestern resort town of Ohrid began at noon today. The negotiations are aimed at ending five months of clashes between government troops and ethnic Albanian fighters.

European Union envoy Francois Leotard said the meetings ended yesterday without any sign of a breakthrough. In an interview with French radio today, Leotard said the negotiations are emotionally charged because of the ongoing violence. He remains uncertain about whether differences can be bridged.

U.S. envoy James Pardew has confirmed that there had been little progress during the weekend.

The main sticking point continues to be the highly contentious issue of whether to make Albanian an official language in Macedonia. But an ethnic Macedonian at the Ohrid negotiations says there has been progress on the language issue.

Georgi Spasov, of the Social Democratic Alliance, said today that Macedonian and ethnic Albanian leaders have agreed, in principle, on the use of Albanian as an official language.

Spasov said it has been agreed that Macedonian will remain as the basic official language throughout the country as well as in international relations.

But he said minority groups that comprise more than 20 percent of a local population will be allowed to use their own language -- potentially creating wide opportunities for the official use of Albanian. Spasov said what remains to be decided is how to incorporate the agreement into Macedonian law:

"Several possibilities exist. One is to construct a new law on the use of languages. The second possibility is to regulate the use of languages under existing laws. The third possibility is for [parts of the Macedonian Constitution] to be dropped, and in their place, to state what we agree upon here -- which would be a constitutional guarantee for the use of the [Albanian] language."

Albanian negotiators have not commented on the apparent compromise. But reports say some Albanian leaders continue to demand that their language be recognized throughout the country. Ethnic Macedonians have ruled out that demand, saying such a move would be a step toward a de facto partition of the country into ethnic republics.

Aziz Pollozhani, the deputy chief of the Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity, said today that all options remain open.

The EU's Leotard told French radio today he is concerned that a deadlock in the Ohrid talks will raise the prospects of a full-scale civil war -- particularly amidst the latest wave of violence. But Leotard did say he thinks a deal could be close on the language issue.

Yesterday's attack on Interior Minister Boskovski's motorcade took place on the main highway between Skopje and the western city of Tetovo at about 1800 (Prague and local time). Boskovski had been visiting ethnic Macedonian refugees who were returning to their villages near Tetovo after being displaced by the fighting.

The Interior Ministry says militants fired rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles at Boskovski's car from hills on both sides of the highway. His bodyguards returned fire in a gunfight that lasted about five minutes. There were no reports of injuries.

Four government reservists were injured in an attack by ethnic Albanian gunmen yesterday at a checkpoint near the village of Lavce in the hills west of Tetovo. There were sporadic clashes around Tetovo overnight and early today.

Two ethnic Macedonian civilians were also killed yesterday by a land mine in a village near the Kosovo border. The area had been under the control of ethnic Albanian fighters earlier this month.

The Defense Ministry says extremists fired four mortars on an army barracks in Tetovo yesterday without injuring anyone. Reports say ethnic Albanian extremists also are regrouping in several other parts of the country -- including the village of Vaksince near the northern city of Kumanovo.