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Macedonia: Hopes Dimming For Breakthrough On Peace Deal

New hurdles are emerging in Macedonia that could scuttle or delay approval of an accord aimed at ending five months of violence between ethnic Albanian militants and government forces.

Prague, 31 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Despite some reports of progress in Macedonian peace talks, negotiators at the closed-door sessions near the lakeside resort of Ohrid tell RFE/RL that talks remain stalled over a few key issues.

The major sticking points are details about how Albanian could be used as an official language in Macedonia, and whether language rights for ethnic Albanians should be enshrined in the constitution.

Gjorgji Spasov, an ethnic Macedonian in the Social Democratic Alliance, said yesterday that agreement is close on a proposal that would make Albanian an official language in localities where more than 20 percent of the population is ethnic Albanian.

But Naser Zyberi, a parliamentary deputy and secretary of the Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity, one of the parties to the talks, tells RFE/RL there has not been much progress on the language issue.

"The [main] contested issue [continues to be] the use of language. I mean [the Albanian demands] are contested by the Macedonian side, which doesn't want the Albanian language used in the parliament, in government or across the country as a whole. We are asking that Albanian have an equal status with the Macedonian language on all levels."

Zyberi also refutes a claim by Spasov that there has been progress in recent days over the question of how to restructure the ethnic composition of police forces.

Macedonian leaders so far have refused demands that mayors in mostly ethnic Albanian towns be granted authority to appoint their own local police chiefs.

The Ohrid talks -- part of negotiations that started in May among all of the elected parties in parliament -- are in their fourth day.

Macedonian state television reports that political leaders spent today reviewing the latest revisions to a draft peace plan presented earlier this month by European Union envoy Francois Leotard and U.S. envoy James Pardew.

But even as today's meetings got underway, a new dispute appeared to be surfacing over whether ethnic Albanian militant leaders should be granted amnesty under a future peace pact.

This latest hurdle emerged after Macedonian prosecutors yesterday asked local courts to issue arrest warrants for 11 militant leaders.

None of the militants is involved in the Ohrid talks. But the backing of the militant leaders is seen as important to the success of any peace plan.

One of those reportedly on the prosecutors' list is Ali Ahmeti, the self-declared political leader of the guerrilla National Liberation Army. Ahmeti told Reuters today that compromises at Ohrid have marginalized many of the demands of ethnic Albanians. He said he will not support what he called "half measures."

For their part, ethnic Macedonian officials like Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski say violations of the cease-fire agreement by ethnic Albanian fighters are undermining the talks.

Boskovski escaped without injury after his motorcade was apparently ambushed over the weekend as he traveled on the main highway between Skopje and the western city of Tetovo. He blamed the attack on ethnic Albanians and responded with a call for the police and army to reassert control over all Macedonian territory now in the hands of ethnic Albanian rebels.

The interior minister's statement has led to fresh signs of tension with other ethnic Macedonian leaders.

The Defense Ministry accused Boskovski of trying to split the security forces. It said in a statement that the army will continue to respect the cease-fire.

In Washington yesterday, U.S. State Department spokesman Charles Hunter also accused ethnic Albanian fighters of trying to undermine the peace talks.

"We strongly condemn a pattern of deliberate cease-fire violations by ethnic-Albanian armed groups in Macedonia. In blatant violation of the agreement they have signed, the extremists have maintained their presence in some of the villages in the Tetovo area."

In a further sign of diminished hope, correspondents report that ethnic Albanian fighters and government forces are being redeployed around contested villages near Tetovo and the northern city of Kumanovo.