SKOPJE, Macedonia — Macedonia's peace process passed a vital test in parliament Thursday as lawmakers approved the general framework of an accord with ethnic Albanian political parties.
The vote set the peace plan's next steps in motion: further collection of rebel weapons by NATO, and legislative debate on new rights for the nation's large ethnic Albanian minority.
NATO's role in the deal appears easy. The insurgents offered no objections to surrendering more weapons, and the arms gathering could resume today after a weeklong break.
But the struggle isn't over in the legislature. Lawmakers must now deal with 36 specific constitutional amendments granting greater political rights to ethnic Albanians and elevating the legal status of the Albanian language. Ethnic Albanians constitute at least a quarter of Macedonia's 2 million people.
"This is only the first step," legislator Radmila Secerinska said after parliament backed the general framework of the peace accord. "The hardest part lies ahead."
It took six days of sharp-tongued bickering, patriotic grandstanding and stop-and-go political maneuvers to arrive at the peace plan vote, which passed 91 to 19. It needed 80 votes in the 120-seat National Assembly.
Rejection would have toppled the entire Western-brokered accord seeking to end the 6-month-old conflict.
"This vote was by those who believe in the future of Macedonia," ethnic Albanian leader Arben Xhaferi said.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization immediately began talks with the rebels regarding restarting the weapons collection, alliance spokesman Maj. Barry Johnson said. NATO has already collected more than a third of the 3,300-piece arsenal to be surrendered by the National Liberation Army by late this month.