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Macedonia: Commission Backs Reforms As Vote Nears

Skopje, 31 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A Macedonian parliamentary commission today voted in favor of the revised version of amendments related to the constitution's preamble and the status of the Macedonian Orthodox Church and other religious communities. Lawmakers convened in committee to attempt to resolve last-minute divisions before a key session on ratifying a Western-designed peace accord. Parliament is due to debate the new version of the preamble at 4:00 pm (local and Prague time).

The deal includes 15 constitutional changes aimed at improving rights for the country's ethnic Albanian community, which makes up about one-third of Macedonia's 2 million people.

A total of 13 members of the commission backed the new preamble, while two Albanian members voted against. There were no abstentions.

One commission member who voted against the new version, Mersel Bilali, says the new version represents a revision of the framework peace agreement signed on 13 August. Members of Bilali's Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) say they will propose additional changes to the draft amendments coming up for debate.

The three other main parties that signed the peace accord could adopt the amendments and ratify the peace deal without the dissenting party because they hold a two-thirds majority in the 120-seat assembly.

The reforms are part of the political agreement that ended an ethnic Albanian insurgency in August. Under that peace deal, ethnic Albanian rebels agreed to hand in their weapons in exchange for greater minority rights. Ethnic Albanian rebels declared themselves disbanded after surrendering some 4,000 weapons to NATO.