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Macedonia: Parliament Adopts Amnesty Law

Skopje, 8 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Macedonia's parliament has adopted a law giving former ethnic Albanian rebels an amnesty. The parliament approved the law late yesterday after a lengthy debate.

The amnesty is viewed as a key part of a peace accord which ended last year's rebel insurgency against government forces. It also is seen as a way of re-integrating former rebels into society.

Klaus Wollers, NATO's ambassador to Macedonia, said the amnesty will "accelerate reconciliation between the two ethnic communities." Irena Guzelova, a spokeswoman for the European Union in Skopje, praised the law's adoption as a "courageous and bold step towards peace, stability and reconciliation."

The amnesty covers crimes committed during and related to the conflict by rebels who voluntarily handed in their weapons under NATO supervision before a September deadline. It also covers those who have already been jailed.

The crimes covered by the amnesty include high treason, mutiny, armed rebellion, and conspiracy against the state. The amnesty excludes crimes that may be the basis of indictments by the UN war crimes tribunal. The tribunal said last year it was investigating both Macedonian and ethnic Albanian forces over incidents in the conflict.

Separately, foreign ministers from 10 NATO candidate countries meet today in Macedonia to form a joint strategy aimed at NATO membership. Ministers from Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia are to attend the conference in Skopje.

The meeting comes ahead of NATO's summit in Prague in November. That summit is expected to select new members for the alliance.

Macedonia's Foreign Ministry said yesterday today's discussions will focus on increasing cooperation among the candidate countries in their bids to join NATO.

NATO and EU representatives, as well as the foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Poland, and Turkey have been invited to attend. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined NATO in 1999.