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Macedonia: NATO Resumes Collection Of Rebel Weapons

Skopje, 7 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- NATO troops today resumed the task of collecting weapons voluntarily handed in by ethnic Albanian rebels, one day after Macedonia's parliament approved a Western-backed peace accord. A NATO spokesman, Paul Burns, said the collection process resumed this morning. Another NATO spokesman, Major Barry Johnson, said the collection site was located near Radusa, some 20 kilometers northwest of the capital Skopje.

Yesterday, Macedonia's parliament voted overwhelmingly for a framework for constitutional reforms which will grant greater rights to the country's ethnic Albanian minority.

NATO's weapons collection could not resume until parliament approved the procedure to start rewriting key parts of the constitution.

The rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) pledged to hand in 3,300 weapons and disband in return for the reforms. They turned in 1,200 arms in the first phase of the collection process, which needed the parliamentary vote before proceeding.

Macedonian diplomats are due to meet in Moscow today with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeny Gusarov to discuss the situation in the Balkans.

The Russian Foreign Ministry says the Macedonian delegation is led by Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Victor Gaber.

The talks follow negotiations yesterday in Moscow between Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, European Union envoy in Macedonia Francois Leotard, U.S. envoy James Pardew, and Max van der Stoel of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

After yesterday's talks, Pardew said Ivanov agreed on the need for an extended international presence in Macedonia.