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Macedonia: Parliament Adopts Albanian-Rights Laws, Proposes Dual Passports

Macedonia's parliament today continued to discuss amending laws to broaden the rights of its ethnic Albanians. The amendments were envisioned in the Ohrid framework agreement signed last August ending seven months of fighting between ethnic Albanian insurgents and Macedonian security forces. Yesterday, the parliament approved a set of new laws making Albanian an official language. RFE/RL reports that the new laws make it possible to use Albanian in all government matters.

Prague, 20 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Of the laws envisaged by last August's Ohrid framework agreement to improve minority rights and ensure the equality of all Macedonian citizens, an overwhelming majority have now been passed.

Justice Minister Ixhet Mehmeti yesterday described perhaps the most significant change, the passage of laws granting Albanian official-language status. "We've had to deal with the status of the Albanian language. According to the laws, the Albanian language is on the rise as an official language. According to the fifth amendment of the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia, Albanian is a language that will be used in all judicial and administrative procedures," Mehmeti said.

Passage of these laws and amendments was stipulated in the Ohrid agreement, which ended seven months of hostilities between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian insurgents.

One of 15 laws related to the Ohrid agreement that the 120-seat parliament adopted yesterday -- on the use of the Albanian language in government -- passed by an overwhelming vote of 88 to three, although a number of deputies abstained from voting.

Another of the newly passed laws establishes the use of Albanian as well as Macedonian in a national census to be conducted in November.

Parliament yesterday also agreed on a package of election laws dividing the country into six electoral districts, each of which will elect 20 parliamentary deputies. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 15 September.

Passage of the language and election laws, which were originally due to be adopted last autumn, was made possible by an agreement last month among the country's four main parliamentary parties, two Macedonian and two Albanian. The agreement resolved a variety of outstanding differences on implementation the Ohrid accord.

Naser Zyberi, a lawmaker with the Albanian Democratic Party of Prosperity (PPD), noted that only a few remaining laws still need to be enacted. "The vast majority of the laws have been adopted. A few still remain to be ratified, like the law on travel documents, the law on parliamentary rules, and the law on use of a language of an ethnic group above 20 percent of the local population. But this process is more or less coming to an end," Zyberi said.

Passage of these laws, as well as one on financing self-government, should complete the Ohrid implementation process.

A related bill, although not one stipulated by the Ohrid agreement, was submitted by the government to parliament yesterday. It calls for the creation of two passports, one in Macedonian, English, and French for general issue, and one in those three languages plus Albanian for issue to those ethnic Albanians preferring to have their mother tongue as one of the passport languages.

President Boris Trajkovski denounced the bill today as pre-election maneuvering by the ruling parties.

The opposition Social Democratic Party (SDSM) yesterday spoke out against the plan, saying a double passport system will lead to the federalization of the Macedonian state.

Social Democrat Secretary-General and parliamentary Deputy Gjorgi Spasov had this to say: "The Social Democratic Party is absolutely against the idea that Macedonia should have two passports with two different wordings."

But Zamir Dika, a PPD lawmaker, responded that the Social Democrats' stance will only foment anti-Albanian sentiment and make it much more difficult for them to find an Albanian coalition partner in the likely event the SDSM wins the election.

But government spokesman Gjorgji Trendafilov noted that a similar passport system already exists in Slovenia, where members of the Italian and Hungarian minorities can request a passport that is printed in their mother tongue, as well as in English and Slovenian.

Danilo Gligorovski, a leading member of the VMRO-DPMNE ruling Macedonian nationalist party, conceded that separate passports for Albanians are discriminatory and are not in Macedonia's national interests. But he said they should be issued to satisfy the Albanians' wishes.