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Macedonian Reforms Next in Peace Process

Balkans: With ethnic Albanian rebels turning in weapons, legislators need to implement promises in last month's deal.

September 08, 2001|From Associated Press

SKOPJE, Macedonia — NATO resumed the collection of rebel weapons Friday as Macedonia's peace process entered a new and potentially difficult phase--following through on promises to grant the ethnic Albanian minority more rights.

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign affairs chief, warned Macedonian legislators to adhere to reforms agreed to under the peace deal signed last month.

"The agreement should be considered as a whole," Solana said in the Macedonian capital, Skopje.

The peace plan is a Western-sponsored, step-by-step process that involves rebels' voluntarily surrendering arms to NATO in three phases, which include parliamentary approval of legislation granting more rights to ethnic Albanians.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has already taken more than a third of the estimated 3,300-piece rebel arsenal to be surrendered by late this month. In the second phase, NATO plans to collect another third of the weapons, or about 1,100 pieces.

The second phase began when NATO resumed the weapons collection after a weeklong impasse that ended when the Macedonian parliament voted Thursday night to change the constitution.

Chanting, "We are Albanian heroes!" about 200 fighters of the rebel National Liberation Army gathered in the northern village of Radusa, near the border with Kosovo, to hand in their weapons Friday.

"We are giving up every last bullet," said Mevlud Bushi, a 19-year-old fighter. But he added that "if we feel at any point concerned, we will buy new arms."

Mission spokesman Maj. Alexander Dick said the majority of weapons surrendered were automatic assault rifles. He did not say how many weapons were collected.

"So far it has been a success," Dick said. "We still expect by Sept. 13 to have the next third of the weapons."

Many Macedonians, however, believe that the rebels are handing in only outdated hardware.

The peace deal moved ahead after much debate when lawmakers buckled to international pressure Thursday, voting 91-19 in favor of changing the constitution.

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