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Macedonia: Progress Reported On Language Issue

Skopje, 30 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- An ethnic Macedonian at the country's multiparty peace talks says there has been progress on the most contentious issue of a draft peace plan, the issue of making Albanian an official language. Georgi Spasov of the Social Democratic Alliance says Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political leaders during the weekend had agreed, in principle, on the use of Albanian as an official language.

Speaking at the start of a third day of talks at Lake Ohrid, Spasov said it is agreed that Macedonian will remain the basic official language. He said minority groups that comprise more than 20 percent of a local population also will be allowed to use their language. He said what remains to be decided is how the issue will be incorporated into 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."

Spasov's assessment differs from remarks last night by European Union envoy Francois Leotard and U.S. envoy James Pardew. Both said there has been little sign of progress on the language issue. Earlier today, Leotard said he remains uncertain about the success of the talks.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, today called on the Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political leaders to seize the chance for a peace deal.

Speaking in Kyiv, Solana said he had been in steady contact with the different leaders, and he expressed hope there would be progress.

Solana visited Skopje last week along with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson.

In related news today, the European Commission approved 1.5 million euros (about $1.3) of emergency humanitarian assistance for refugees fleeing to Kosovo from Macedonia.

The money will be used to finance UNCHR (United Nations Commission on Human Rights) and UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) relief operations in the next six months for up to 60,000 refugees, as well as the estimated 10,000 families hosting them in Kosovo.

UNCHR will provide host families with financial assistance and distribute non-food aid to refugees, such as mattresses, blankets, and kitchen materials.

UNICEF will undertake a health project to deliver immunization vaccines and treat major childhood illnesses for the 12,000 refugee children.