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News: Macedonian police say seven shot dead in ambush attempt - March 2, 2002
Macedonia: Rights Defenders Under Attack - January 19, 2002
Macedonians Pay Price for Peace with Rebels - December 13, 2001
Macedonia Pardons 11 Guerrillas to Launch Amnesty - December 5, 2001
Macedonia pardons first Albanian rebels - December 5, 2001
The special police force ‘Lions’ places the peace process in Macedonia at risk - December 4, 2001
Macedonia UN Agencies Appeal for Relief Donations - December 3, 2001
Macedonia might free Albanian rebels - December 3, 2001
Macedonia's justice minister seeks amnesty for former rebels - November 27, 2001
Macedonia moderates quit coalition in blow to peace deal - November 22, 2001
Collapse of Macedonian coalition puts peace in peril - November 22, 2001
A Night that Could Have Brought the War Back - November 22, 2001
Macedonian MPs finally ratify peace-deal reforms for Albanians - November 17, 2001
Macedonia Says Reforms Bind Rebels to Accept State - November 17, 2001
Macedonia OKs Clear Amnesty for Former Guerrillas - November 16, 2001
Macedonia adopts new constitution - November 16, 2001
Fighting in northwest Macedonia, three police killed - November 12, 2001

Macedonian police say seven shot dead in ambush attempt Posted March 2, 2002
Saturday March 2, 10:01 PM

Macedonian police say seven shot dead in ambush attempt

Macedonian police shot dead seven people who ambushed a patrol north of the capital Skopje, in the most serious incident since a peace accord was signed last year to end a rebel insurgency.

A high-ranking police official said it appeared the men had been "preparing terrorist attacks against several key buildings in Skopje, including embassies."

Police suffered no losses in their own ranks when the patrol came under fire around 4:00 am (0300 GMT) in Rastanski Lozja, near the village of Ljuboten, and all the assailants were killed, a police statement said Saturday.

They said the assailants appeared to be "foreigners" and were found to have hand grenades, pistols and rocket-launchers.

The Ljuboten region was the site of heavy fighting last year between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian rebels.

Saturday's clash is the most serious incident since the signing in August of a Western-backed peace accord that ended the conflict and led to the formal disbanding of the rebel National Liberation Army (NLA).

Despite the accord, tensions have persisted in ethnic Albanian areas in the north of the country.

The incident comes just days after the Macedonian government an amnesty bill for ethnic Albanian rebels.

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski has pardoned dozens of arrested former rebels under the terms of an amnesty proclaimed in October, but the measures have yet to be enacted into law as demanded by ethnic Albanian leaders.

The NLA launched its insurgency in February last year in what it said was a bid to improve rights for ethnic Albanians, who make up almost one third of the country's two million people. But Skopje accused the rebels of seeking to unite northwestern Macedonia with the neighboring Yugoslav province of Kosovo.

MACEDONIA: EC AID UNDER FIRE Posted January 21, 2002


Independent report damns misuse of European aid for Balkans

By Svetlana Jovanovska in Brussels and Gordana Icevska in Skopje

European Commission aid to Macedonia and Albania over the last decade has been inefficient, badly coordinated and hampered by bureaucracy, a report by a group of experts published in the region last week revealed.

The French and Italian experts, members of an independent consultancy charged by the EC to monitor its works, said the 1.5 billion euros the neighbouring Balkan states received from the EC between 1991 and 2001 did not contribute to the building of a civic society or stop corruption.

"In regard to Macedonia, which received about 500 million euros in the past decade," it said, "the commission ignored the necessity to create institutions whereby different ethnic groups would have come closer together."

The report notes that just 58 per cent of the funds went on specific projects and that only 34 per cent of the total was actually spent.

It singled out the fact that money given towards road building in Macedonia, for example, did not go towards the most efficient or the cheapest companies.

The report recommends paying closer attention to domestic development in the two states and to the phased harmonisation of their legal and institutional systems with European Union norms.

Gunner Wiegand, spokesman for the EC's external relations commissioner, Christopher Patten, said the body was aware of its failures, which is why it ordered the report in the first place.

"We know that there are problems," he said, "we don't hide that and we opted for transparency." But he added, "We do not agree with all the criticisms directed at us...most of the structural mistakes...have been solved."

Addressing complaints of corruption, he said they were "working on specific programmes in the area of justice and internal affairs for improvement of border management, control of public procurements and reform of the public administration".

Wiegand said blame for existing failings could not all be laid at the door of the EC but rested also with the states receiving aid. "Through our programmes we respond to the political will of these countries, as well as to the political will of the EU member countries for getting the Balkans closer to the EU," he said.

Patten himself wrote a letter to the Financial Times, after it reported the experts' conclusions last December, defending the commission's programmes in Macedonia and Albania. "Better allocation, much better allocation of the funds is our goal everywhere," he wrote.

Macedonian experts, meanwhile, differ sharply on the way that EC money was spent and who is to blame for the failures noted in the report.

Almost all of them agree that the money was spent inappropriately, but some - especially those linked to the government - say the Macedonian authorities had little influence on the way the funds were allocated and insist commission representatives had the last word.

Abdulmnaf Bexheti, an economist from the Party for Democratic Prosperity, PDP, and a former minister for development, said the European representatives did not listen to the Macedonian authorities before deciding how to spend the money.

"This should be taken as a lesson for the EU and the international community," he said. "When a country is offered assistance, the country in question should determine the priorities. "

Bexheti said often there was no coordination between Macedonian and European representatives, who decided what would be financed.

"Maybe a portion of the funds was inappropriately allocated. But they were managed by the EU," he said. "If we had been given greater freedom, the money would have been allocated more appropriately."

Other economists take a very different view. Petar Gosev, an opposition deputy, says the Macedonian authorities had no development strategy and thus no idea how and where to target the flow of funds.

As a result, he said, the Europeans could not direct the money in the right direction, "No matter what efforts they made, without a strategy they could have no effect."

Gosev additionally claims that the EU representatives knew all about the massive corruption in the country. "They know that their money was spent inefficiently," he said.

The office of the commission's permanent representative in Macedonia did not want to comment on the report.

Svetlana Jovanovska is the Brussels correspondent for Skopje's daily Dnevnik. Gordana Icevska works for the weekly Kapital in Skopje.

Macedonia: Rights Defenders Under Attack Posted January 19, 2002


Macedonia: Rights Defenders Under Attack
Campaign to Intimidate the Helsinki Committee

(New York, January 19, 2002) - In letters sent today to the President and Prime Minister of Macedonia, Human Rights Watch denounced a recent campaign to discredit and intimidate the Macedonian Helsinki Committee, a local human rights organization.

In statements by government officials and government-controlled media, the Helsinki Committee and its president Mirjana Najcevska have been branded "state enemies" because of their human rights reporting, especially on violations by the Macedonian police. The Minister of the Interior, Ljube Boskovski, has been leading these verbal assaults.

"These attacks are a threat to the rights of all Macedonians," said Elizabeth Andersen, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "They come from the highest levels of the Macedonian government and have a clear aim: to silence the critical reporting of a leading human rights group."

Although this is not the first time Macedonian authorities have targeted human rights organizations, this recent wave of intimidation seems to have been triggered by leaks of the Helsinki Committee's forthcoming annual report.

Minister Boskovski and others have been particularly hostile to the Helsinki Committee's work on the protection of rights of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian citizens. Human rights groups have criticized the Macedonian police for numerous rights violations, including unlawful arrests, torture, and mistreatment of ethnic Albanians. Boskovski has direct authority over the Macedonian police forces.

The conflict over the Helsinki Committee's work comes at a time when many Macedonians and the international community are trying to address long-standing minority rights and other human rights problems through implementation of the Ohrid peace agreement.

Human Rights Watch has conveyed its concerns to representatives of the international community, including the Chair-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama, who visits Skopje today.

For further information, please contact:
In New York, Darian Pavli: (office) +1-212-216-1268, (mobile)
In Brussels, Jean-Paul Marthoz: +32-2-736-7838

The letters are available on the Human Rights Watch website at:


IWPR'S BALKAN CRISIS REPORT, NO. 309, January 17, 2002

Church tributes for controversial interior ministry unit prompts Albanian militants to threaten renewed violence.

By Vladimir Jovanovski in Skopje

Fears are growing of renewed ethnic conflict in Macedonia after the prime minister stoked tensions by appearing at a controversial ceremony, where the church bestowed medals on suspected paramilitaries.

Ljupco Georgievski took part in a ceremony on January 9 at a police base north of Skopje, where the Macedonian Orthodox Church leader presented medallions of Christ to the special police forces.

"Macedonia is a holy country but also a country of heroes. Prepare to protect Macedonia," said Archbishop Stefan, who shares Georgievski's nationalist convictions.

Among those receiving medallions were members of the interior ministry's rapid reaction unit, known as the Lions, whom many international observers and some Macedonians see as paramilitaries.

The Lions' commander, Goran Trajkov, was promoted at the ceremony to the rank of major general, in spite of the fact that he was sacked as personal bodyguard of President Boris Trajkovski for misconduct in last year's pre-election campaign.

The Albanian National Army, ANA, a secretive successor organisation to the now disbanded National Liberation Army, NLA, responded to the church ceremony by threatening a renewal of hostilities.

"The blessing of paramilitary units by the head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church and the buying of new arms from Ukraine, Russia and Croatia forced us to respond," the ANA communiqué said.

The group warned of a "possible offensive" against the "the repressive Slav Macedonian apparatus against the Albanians". Little is known about the leadership or strength of the organisation.

The ceremony undermined attempts by moderate groups to ease ethnic tension. At Aracinovo, a village 10 km east of Skopje, which saw heavy fighting between the security forces and Albanian rebels last year, activists from the NGO Centre for Inter-ethnic Tolerance have been encouraging reconciliation among young Macedonians and Albanians.

"We assemble young people from Aracinovo and urge them to tell each other directly, face to face, what they think and feel," said Dusko Minovski, a coordinator of the centre, describing their programme in the village, which most Macedonians abandoned last year

Mayor Reshat Ferati, an Albanian, backs the move. "Cohabitation between the two ethnic groups will exist even though some claim it is impossible," he said.

Albanian political leaders and some Macedonian opposition parties condemned the presentation of medals to police.

"This is another step towards the division of state organs on a religious and national basis," said Naser Ziberi, of the Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity, PDP, one of two largest Albanian parties in parliament.

Fatmir Etemi, of the Democratic Party of Albanians, said if priests could bless Christian policemen, Islamic clergy had an equal right to bless Muslim policemen.

The opposition Social Democrats were also critical. Georgi Spasov, the party secretary-general, accused Georgievski and the interior minister, Ljube Boskovski, another hardliner, of subverting international obligations to build a multi-ethnic society.

Meto Jovanovski, of the human rights watchdog the Macedonian Helsinki Committee, said it was unclear whether the Lions were even a legal body. "It is obviously in opposition to the spirit of the Ohrid Agreement," he said, referring to last August's internationally-brokered peace deal, aimed at ending the ethnic conflict.

Jovanovski claimed Boskovski's pledge to supply the group with heavy weaponry revealed its paramilitary character.

Georgievski may have taken part in the presentation ceremony out of a conviction that a fresh wave of fighting is inevitable. Speaking on state television just before New Year, he said, "The renewal of the conflict is possible after the snow melts."

Such statements do nothing to help the country's moderate president in his efforts to consolidate the peace plan. The terms involve a reformed, ethnically-mixed police force gaining control over rebel-held areas, the disarmament of militants and changes in the constitution to satisfy the Albanian minority.

None of these changes are yet complete, which is why the prime minister's actions risk undermining the whole business of re-establishing trust in Macedonia's ethnically-mixed communities.

Vladimir Jovanovski is a journalist at the Skopje magazine Forum.

Macedonians Pay Price for Peace with Rebels Posted December 13, 2001
Wednesday December 12 8:13 AM ET

Macedonians Pay Price for Peace with Rebels
By Kole Casule

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonians never imagined they would need earphones to understand debate in parliament or use a foreign language to buy food, but a new era distasteful to many looms as the price of peace with rebel minority Albanians.

A veritable constitutional revolution has been imposed by a Western-brokered peace accord with minority Albanian guerrillas, whose February-August uprising for better civil rights brought the tiny Balkan republic to its knees.

If the constitutional amendments recently ratified by parliament are carried out, Macedonian's majority community must get used to things they thought would never happen.

Aside from ethnic Albanians speaking their own language in parliament and exercising a right to speak only Albanian to shop customers, Macedonian could face the possibility of being stopped for spot checks by an ethnic Albanian policeman.

Or even being tried by an ethnic Albanian judge.

``Those are a few changes more than ordinary Macedonians are willing to accept overnight,'' a senior government aide said.

Since Macedonia gained its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, minority Albanian parties have taken part in government. But the use their language at state level was not allowed and their presence in public services was minimal.

But things should change now and there may well be a backlash from aggrieved Macedonians across the board for whom the peace accord was a ``sell-out to terrorists'' imposed by Western diplomatic and financial pressure.

Minority Albanians comprise about a third of the population and that share is growing, given a birthrate outstripping that of the former Yugoslav republic's majority.


Their new rights include the use of Albanian in state and legislative business, jobs in state institutions, including police, commensurate with their share of the population, and devolution to majority Albanian municipalities.

What this means for Macedonians is that that they must work side by side with Albanians, adapt to using their language in some public offices, give them space to display their symbols and culture -- in essence, to treat them as equals.

Although the national assembly has ratified the peace plan and introduced the changes into the constitution, it will be difficult to convince people to accept them in practice.

``People thought that when they passed the constitutional reforms, the hardest part was over. They didn't understand or actually realize (the underlying meaning) of some of these steps,'' said Edward Joseph, senior analyst in Macedonia for the International Crisis Group think-tank.

Parliament may prove the most obvious example of how unprepared Macedonians are for their brave new post-war world.

``You will never speak Albanian in this parliament, at least not while I'm here,'' a Macedonian MP said dismissively to an ethnic Albanian colleague after the ratification vote.

There are already signs of trouble in implementing the reforms. Parliament last week failed to elect new municipal court judges because the candidates were all Albanians. Ethnic Albanian MPs walked out in protest, shutting down the session.

The new constitution calls for proportional representation of all ethnicities in public office. But Macedonian legislators seemed loath to enable ethnic Albanian judges to try anyone.

Efforts to pass a bill that would undo rigid centralization of power have bogged down in ethnic confrontation that World Bank (news - web sites) and other international experts are now trying to resolve.

Macedonian MPs fear that ceding serious powers to municipal governments will spawn ``federalization,'' effectively splitting the brittle little country of two million people.

Ethnic Albanians are insisting on considerable self-rule -- as the text of the peace deal stipulated, but without delving into the wrenching practical detail.


Another serious stumbling block to lasting peace could be the restoration of state security in the lawless rebel north, due to start later this week but prone to pitfalls.

The interior ministry, headed by nationalist hawk Ljube Boskovski, is seen by many Macedonians as the pillar of a continuing battle against ``Albanian terrorists.'' The guerrillas disbanded but retained weapons and gunfire remains common.

Under the peace accord, the ministry must employ 1,000 ethnic Albanian policemen over the next 18 months to be assigned to the very areas where guerrilla compatriots rose up.

``We will have to persuade the former enemies to work side by side,'' a Western diplomat in Skopje said.

Despite all the barriers, the international community is optimistic that peace still has a chance, emphasizing that all reforms need time to take root, like anywhere else.

``There are no immediate solutions to a crisis like this. This type of reform just takes time and people will get used to them,'' the diplomat told Reuters.

Macedonia Pardons 11 Guerrillas to Launch Amnesty Posted December 5, 2001
Wednesday December 5 2:54 PM ET

Macedonia Pardons 11 Guerrillas to Launch Amnesty
By Mark Heinrich

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski pardoned 11 jailed ethnic Albanian guerrillas on Wednesday, launching an amnesty regarded as crucial to sustaining an August peace settlement.

Justice ministry sources told Reuters the 11 were freed from Skopje's grim Sutka detention center later in the day and another 77 on the pardon list would probably be released in daily batches of 11 over the coming week.

The amnesty is aimed at defusing ethnic mistrust, enabling a return of Macedonian police and refugees to the northern rebel heartland in coming weeks at minimum risk of violence, and helping reintegrate disaffected fighters in society.

It is to cover all former National Liberation Army (NLA) insurgents who voluntarily disarmed under NATO (news - web sites) supervision by September 26 and those captured before then, but excludes those who are indictable by the U.N. war crimes tribunal.

The broad amnesty was decreed under strong Western diplomatic pressure last month after weeks of nationalist obstruction within the coalition cabinet and security services.

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski's cabinet issued an amnesty declaration in October but it was shot through with loopholes and rejected by the rebels and international peace sponsors as a sham.

``President Trajkovski decided today to pardon 11 members of the so-called (disbanded) NLA who were arrested before September 26,'' said a statement by his office issued by the state news agency MIA.

``The pardoning commission will continue to process others on the list of 88 pardoning proposals. The president will bring further pardoning decisions in the next few days.''

Macedonian television stations also said the first detainees on the list were out of jail but had no footage.

Skopje was not saying when and where detainees were being freed to minimize publicity for an unpopular move with elections due next year and to avoid exposing ex-prisoners to possible violence by Macedonians who suffered in the war.


Prisoner releases would provide the first evidence that the government was honoring the amnesty, easing fears of arrest among thousands of NLA veterans and their supporters that have deterred them from returning to jobs and studies in main towns.

But international peace officials told the government on Tuesday that for reconciliation efforts to work it would also have to dismantle intimidating army and police checkpoints maintained along former cease-fire lines.

A senior government official told Reuters the aim of the amnesty was ``to relax tensions'' and remove the last obstacle to reinstating police in the 10 percent of Macedonia taken by the rebels during a seven-month uprising.

It resulted in a Western-engineered peace accord that promised the large Albanian minority better civil rights and a devolution of power to municipalities in exchange for the dissolution of the NLA.

Rebels handed in almost 4,000 weapons to NATO collectors and disbanded in September. Parliament ratified constitutional amendments required by the peace accord on November 16.

Eight of the 88 jailed guerrillas were convicted of plotting or carrying out ``terrorist'' attacks on security forces while the rest were in pre-trial detention on similar charges.

U.N. war crimes tribunal chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte said in a visit to Skopje on November 20 that she had begun investigations against both Macedonian security forces and NLA fighters, but refused to give details.

However, analysts say the number of atrocities in Macedonia's conflict was very small compared with ethnic wars elsewhere in former Yugoslavia and only a few people on either side might have reason to fear indictment.

Macedonia pardons first Albanian rebels Posted December 5, 2001
Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 14:47 GMT

Macedonia pardons first Albanian rebels

Eleven fighters are to be released from jail

The first rebel ethnic Albanian fighters have been granted amnesties by Macedonia.
Eleven jailed fighters are expected to leave prison later on Wednesday after being pardoned by President Boris Trajkovski.

The amnesty is part of a western-backed peace plan, thrashed out to end an insurgency by ethnic Albanian guerrillas which began earlier this year.

President Trajkovski is expected to announce more amnesties

The pardons are to cover all fighters who are not indictable by the UN war crimes tribunal and who gave up their arms voluntarily under a Nato-led weapons collection scheme.

Another 77 proposals for amnesty are still under consideration and more are expected to be granted in the next few days.

"These are only the first pardons - the process of amnesty continues," said Mr Trajkovski's spokeswoman, Dimka Ilkova Boskovic.

The peace process has been bogged down since the completion of the arms collection and there were fears that the Macedonians might not honour their pledge to grant the amnesties.

Western diplomats have said that the enactment of the amnesties would be an important indication of goodwill on the part of the Macedonian Government.

The UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has also begun investigations of war crimes allegations levelled against both sides in the conflict.

The peace process took a leap forward last month when the Macedonian parliament voted to make a raft of changes to the country's constitution aimed at improving the status and representation of the Albanian population.



Skopje, 4 December 2001 (CHOM)

The Macedonian Police continue with the systematic abuse towards citizens of Albania, informs the newspaper "Shekulli" ( The Century). The object of Macedonian police abuse this time were the 52 medical workers from Fier who were returning from their 4-day visit to Bulgaria. Albanian doctors were subjects of physical and psychological abuse in several police checkpoints while they were passing through Macedonia to reach to Albania. Offensive words were addressed to doctors from Albania in 6 police checkpoints, starting from Tetovo to Qafe Thane (border). Words like "you are terrorists", "the troubles in Macedonia came from you", "we will extinct all of you simultaneously", "you are bandits" and many other similar words were used, informs "Shekulli".

The special police force ‘Lions’ places the peace process in Macedonia at risk Posted December 4, 2001

The special police force ‘Lions’ places the peace process in Macedonia at risk
Skopje, Vienna, 4 December 2001

The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Macedonia (MHC) are deeply worried about the legal institutionalization of a special police unit called ‘Lions’ within the Macedonian Interior Ministry. The way this unit was formed and the way it works places the fragile peace process in Macedonia at risk. The unit is mono-ethnic, and their members allegedly include many former criminals.


In the presence of President Trajkovski, Prime Minister Georgievski and Interior Minister Boskovski, a new special unit named ‘Lions’, designed to perform combat and anti-terrorist actions, was publicly promoted on 2nd November 2001, after having been established by a decision of the Government.

Before being legalized, the unit had existed in a semi-legal manner for several months, acting under the direct command of the Minister of Interior himself, especially in the area of the armed conflict. It was formed as a response to the violent paramilitary acts of the UCK as a parallel structure outside of the regular police system. The unit was designed to be used in situations where it was considered necessary to step outside the boundaries of the law, or when the local or international control was to be avoided.

Questions about the Selection Process and Training of Members of this Unit

The ‘Lions’ allegedly are a mixture of experienced police officers and military reservists assigned to the Ministry of Interior. Deep ambiguities exist regarding the selection process of its candidates. While, technically, the selection was governed by established criteria for joining a unit for special tasks - medical examinations, physical and psychological tests - critics in Macedonia claim that there has been no particular acceptance procedure and no precise criteria in the recruitment.

While the members from this force went through a special police and military training, this training was limited in several respects. In particular, they were not thoroughly trained concerning the limitations and responsibilities of the police, that is, in human rights principles.

According to some reports, some persons with criminal records or accused of criminal acts are members of these units. This practice has in principle become lawful, since the Constitutional Court of Macedonia quashed in May 2001 previous provisions from the Law on Internal Affairs prohibiting convicted persons of entering the police force.

The IHF recommends that the selection for a special law-enforcement force should be undertaken in a way to ensure the highest standards of professionalism, and to avoid questions such as those now surrounding the ‘Lions’, questions that destroy confidence in the security forces and indeed, in the state itself.

The deepest flaw of this unit is that no Albanians or members of minority groups are members. We fear that this unit might be used for ‘solving’ interethnic tensions in a more than ill-defined manner in the future and therefore could become a source of increased tensions. Furthermore the symbol of the ‘Lions’ bears a close resemblance to that of the main VMRO-DPMNE governing party.

Attempt of the Ministry of Interior to Obstruct the Process of Building a Multi-Ethnic Police Force

On November 9th, 2001 the Ministry for Interior officially adopted the orthodox Saint Dimitry as the patron of the Ministry for Interior. We regard that as another obstacle for the implementation of one of the key provisions of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, which is the multiethnic (and multi-confessional) composition of the police and the state administration.

The Danger Posed by the Albanian National Army (ANA) to the Peace Process

The IHF and the MHC do not put into question per se, that the Macedonian state forms a special unit for fighting terrorism. We acknowledge that the Macedonian state has a legitimate right and duty to confront terrorism and extremism and to defend its territorial integrity, constitutional order, public peace and security. We consider that the existence and activities of the Albanian National Army (ANA) are a severe threat to the peace process, which has to be dealt with in a state that wants to uphold the rule of law and to ensure the human rights of all of its citizens.

The ANA claimed responsibility for the recent killing of three members of the special police force ‘Lions’ in the village of Treboc on November 11th 2001, as well as for the abduction of dozens of civilian hostages. It was also the same group that had claimed responsibility for the 10 soldiers killed on 8th August in an ambush on the highway between Skopje and Tetovo, and for the landmine explosion that killed eight soldiers near the village of Ljuboten on August 10th, in an vain attempt to hinder the main Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political parties to sign the Ohrid Framework Agreement. It is not fully clear if this group is a disguised radical splinter group of the officially fully disbanded National Liberation Army (NLA), or if the NLA has no connection with them.

For further information: International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Aaron Rhodes, Joachim Frank, Tel. +43-1-408 88 22, +43-676-635 66 12, +43-676 312 23 48
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Macedonia, Mirjana Najcevska, Tel. +389-2-119 073, +389-70-268 572

Macedonia UN Agencies Appeal for Relief Donations Posted December 3, 2001
Monday December 3 9:47 AM ET

Macedonia UN Agencies Appeal for Relief Donations

SKOPJE (Reuters) - United Nations (news - web sites) agencies in Macedonia appealed to donors on Monday for contributions of $41 million to its 2002 conflict relief operations in the tiny Balkan republic.

Amin Awad, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Macedonia, said the money would be used mostly to assist an estimated 100,000 displaced people and others affected by a seven-month guerrilla conflict which ended with a peace deal in August.

``People returning must have a roof over their heads and the means to begin to rebuild their lives,'' he said.

``As such, one of the core elements of the U.N. program is helping to repair homes, schools and clinics that have been damaged by fighting,'' Awad told a news briefing.

The ethnic Albanian insurgency was resolved by a Western-sponsored accord granting more rights to Macedonia's largest minority, a pact still awaiting implementation.

``We still have a lot of work, but we hope that the cycle of violence will be broken,'' Awad said.

In a consolidated inter-agency report for 2002, the U.N. agencies said that besides the displaced people, some 260,000 people in Macedonia would indirectly benefit from activities to stabilize and build confidence between communities.

Funding needs cited included $400,000 for food, $8.4 million for agriculture, $4.86 million for health, $3.85 million for family shelter and non-food items and $3.5 million for education.

The U.N. agencies said that their 2002 humanitarian strategy would aim to smooth a transition from relief to economic development programs.

Macedonia might free Albanian rebels Posted December 3, 2001

Monday, 3 December, 2001, 16:27 GMT
Macedonia might free Albanian rebels[]
Western leaders have been pushing for the amnesty
By Nicholas Wood in Skopje

Macedonia is considering whether to free 88 prisoners accused of being former members of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla organisation, the National Liberation Army. []

The guerrillas laid down their arms with a promise of amnesty

Their release was proposed by President Boris Trajkovski, and is seen as essential to ensuring that the country's peace process continues smoothly.

The 88 prisoners are either awaiting trial or have already been sentenced for their alleged involvement with the conflict between gunmen and security forces this year.

A pardoning committee, led by President Boris Trajkovski, is expected to consider their release and may announce a decision later on Monday.

Proof of intention

The step is seen as essential to the former Yugoslav republic's peace process, which remains in a fragile state.

Western diplomats believe the release will provide substantial proof of the government's intention to give an amnesty to former members of the National Liberation Army.

Macedonian hardliners oppose the release

The guerrilla movement laid down its arms with a promise of an amnesty in September.

The failure to resolve the issue has threatened to derail the peace agreement signed in August.

Some government members doubt the guerrillas' intentions and are openly opposed to the accord.

The arrest of seven Albanians during a police operation near the city of Tetovo last month saw the re-emergence of ethnic Albanian gunmen - a standoff between them and the security forces remains.

Macedonia's justice minister seeks amnesty for former rebels Posted November 27, 2001
Tuesday November 27, 2:17 AM

Macedonia's justice minister seeks amnesty for former rebels

Macedonia's justice minister has urged President Boris Trajkovski to grant an amnesty to 88 ex-members of an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group that fought government forces in a short-lived rebellion earlier this year, an official statement said.

Eight of the former members of the National Liberation Army (NLA) are serving prison terms for their rebel activities.

The 80 others are being detained on suspicion of belonging to the NLA, which was officially disbanded under a Western-brokered peace accord signed in August to end the six-month-old rebellion.

Justice Minister Idzet Memeti, himself ethnic Albanian, made the appeal in a letter to Trajkovski.

Trajkovski has promised freedom from prosecution to disarmed guerrillas, except for those wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

Under pressure from the international community, the president earlier this month pledged that the promised amnesty, which exists only as a political declaration, would be honoured.

The NLA launched its insurgency in February in what it said was a fight for more rights for the ethnic Albanian minority in the former Yugoslav republic.

Under the peace accord, parliament earlier this month approved reforms aimed at boosting the rights of the ethnic Albanian minority. In exchange, the rebels disbanded, and in September handed over almost 4,000 weapons to NATO troops.

Macedonia moderates quit coalition in blow to peace deal Posted November 22, 2001
Thursday November 22, 7:41 AM

Macedonia moderates quit coalition in blow to peace deal
By Mark Heinrich

SKOPJE, Macedonia (Reuters) - Macedonia's main moderate party walked out on the shaky "national unity" government on Wednesday, complicating Western-sponsored efforts to implement a peace accord with minority Albanian guerrillas.

Nationalists, who stand to consolidate power after the Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia's (SDSM's) exit, began excavating a site said to contain Macedonians executed by Albanians, stirring new confrontation with the disbanded rebels.

A police swoop to seize the alleged mass grave, which may contain up to 13 Macedonians, caused fighting 10 days ago.

"Our latest information...says that one body has been found already," Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, a nationalist hardliner, said of the dig in a rebel-inhabited valley near the northwestern city of Tetovo.

Journalists were barred from the scene. Police video released later showed bulldozers and Interior Ministry investigators at work, watched by international monitors including an official of the U.N. war crimes tribunal.

The dig stirred new confrontation with the rebels, who grabbed guns and set up roadblocks, fearing attack by police commandos who sealed off part of the valley on orders from radical nationalist Interior Minister Ljubco Georgievski.


Diplomats who brokered an August peace accord fear the moderates' departure from government will give too much power to nationalists like Georgievski and Boskovski, seen as more eager for revenge than reconciliation with the Albanians.

"It's true that the international community has urged us to remain in the government," SDSM chairman Branko Crvenkovski, a former prime minister, said. "But we cannot act as babysitters for Georgievski and Boskovski and clean up their dirty work."

The "national unity" government, which includes mainstream ethnic Albanian parties, was formed in May at the behest of Western powers anxious to end an insurgency that brought the former Yugoslav republic to the brink of all-out civil war.

In Washington, a U.S. State Department official, asked about the SDSM withdrawal, said Macedonia's government must push the peace process forward no matter its makeup.

"Macedonia's political leaders must continue working to consolidate the peace by pressing forward with implementation of the framework agreement. Much work remains to be done including urgent passage of the law on local self-government," the official said.


Crvenkovski said co-habitation with political foes was self-defeating -- the SDSM leads in pre-election polls -- since some stability was attained by parliament's approval last week of constitutional reforms benefiting ethnic Albanians.

"From today, the SDSM is no longer part of the broad coalition government," Crvenkovski told reporters. "Our ministers will resign and the party moves into opposition."

The SDSM had three of 16 cabinet posts -- defence, foreign affairs and a deputy premiership.

The party's exit could give the defence ministry to Georgievski's party and torpedo an SDSM-led crisis management committee dedicated to a phased return of regular police to areas that came under guerrilla control.

It could also magnify the power of Boskovski. Western diplomats have accused his "Lion" shock troops of harassing demobilised rebels repeatedly since August.

The SDSM leadership insisted it would retain enough clout to prevent any serious re-eruption of conflict. "We are leaving the government, but not Macedonia. And we have the strength to prevent them going into another adventure," Crvenkovski said.

A senior government official affiliated with neither main party said the SDSM's walkout was irresponsible and could be disastrous. "We are entering a period of utmost danger after losing a key force for restraint," he told Reuters.

Edward Joseph, International Crisis group senior analyst, said nationalists may be "wary of reckless operations ...because it would not be able to share blame with anyone else."

The government was unlikely to collapse at least in the short term as Georgievski's VMRO-DPMNE party and its partners in the old government can muster a majority in parliament.

Collapse of Macedonian coalition puts peace in peril Posted November 22, 2001,4273,4304409,00.html

Collapse of Macedonian coalition puts peace in peril
Nicholas Wood in Skopje Guardian

Thursday November 22, 2001

Macedonia's national unity government fell apart yesterday when a key coalition partner, the moderate Social Democratic Union (SDSM), withdrew its support, leaving politicians who are more hard line in charge of key ministries.

The SDSM has stood by a western-backed peace agreement designed to end seven months of conflict between ethnic Albanian guerrillas and security forces.

Leaving the government was seen by many as a party strategy to win votes in elections early next year from people who are critical of the government's handling of the peace process.

The party did not want to be used to excuse "a catastrophic economic policy, crime, corruption, political party feudalism. These things even escalated during the conflict," Branko Crvenkovski, the president of the SDSM, said in a swipe at his coalition partners.

"We can't be baby-sitters and clean up a dirty job," he added.

The party's resignation overshadowed the excavation of an alleged mass grave near the north-western city of Tetovo.

There was some confusion as to whether human remains had been found, but police sources claimed forensic teams uncovered remains buried two metres deep, and hidden under car parts.

The operation took place near the villages of Trebos and Dzepciste, and was observed by a team from the Hague international war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia.

The Macedonian interior ministry alleged that up to 12 civilians who went missing at the height of last summer's conflict between the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) and the security forces were buried at the site.

A police official who asked not be named said the grave was believed to contain the bodies of up to six people.

The initial operation a week last Sunday to seize the alleged mass grave formerly held by the NLA saw three policemen killed in renewed clashes with Albanian gunmen. A stand-off between the two sides has continued ever since.

The operation showed just how fragile the peace remains in Macedonia. Government officials argue that the latest fighting shows the NLA has not disarmed. The gunmen say the police operation which saw the arrest of seven ethnic Albanian men was intended to provoke them in spite of an amnesty announced by the government.

"The police were sent by the government and [Ljube] Boskovski [the Macedonian interior minister] to destablise the situation, and surround this region," claimed the man commanding gunmen in Trebos.

In neighouring Dzepciste, another commander welcomed the presence of officials from the Hague tribunal at the excavation. "It should have happened like this at the first time but instead three policemen were killed," he said.

On the political front, the SDSM had long said it would return to opposition once the country's peace deal, granting greater rights to ethnic Albanians, was passed by parliament. This happened last week.

Key government positions, such as the defence and foreign ministries, are now in the hands of the more hawkish VMRO-DPMNE, the largest party. This worries politicians and diplomats backing the peace process.

"It's difficult to say what they will do because there is some danger that they have both important ministries, but I hope they will not try to provoke another war," said Petar Gosev a member of the Liberal Democratic party and an opposition MP.

A Night that Could Have Brought the War Back Posted November 22, 2001
THU, 22 NOV 2001 22:11:34 GMT

A Night that Could Have Brought the War Back

By refusing to vote for constitutional amendments, the Albanian PDP has taken upon itself the responsibility for all those who until now stalled the implementation of the Peace Agreement, whereas it took just one day for Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski to send special units to the NLA-controlled zone and arrest seven of its members despite the promised amnesty. This was followed by a violent reaction of the Albanian side which caused three new deaths.

AIM Skopje, November 13, 2001

It was politicians' stupidity that brought Macedonia to the precipice of a new war. First, on Saturday, November 11, 2001 the Central Presidency of the Albanian Democratic Party for Prosperity (PDP) confirmed its decision to abstain from voting on the offered text of the preamble and constitutional amendments that should regulate the issue of religious communities. Speaker Andov took advantage of this to call a recess and postpone the continuation of the session for the adoption of constitutional amendments, which constitute the most important part of the Framework Agreement that brought the country a kind of peace. He also made a demand rare in parliamentary democracies: he refused to call the parliamentary session for the adoption of constitutional reforms until PDP gave guarantees that it would vote in favour constitutional amendments offered by President Boris Trajkovski. This practically blocked the process of implementing the Ohrid Framework Agreement, which in the opinion of Western diplomats was the only chance to preserve peace, with a possibility to be completely rejected.

A day later, on Sunday, Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski staged his latest "clownish" performance. After a meeting with President Trajkovski and representatives of the European Union and Ambassadors of NATO and OSCE in Macedonia, he informed of his intention to send his new shock troops "Lions" on a mission of securing a site where, according to the MUP, 14 missing persons of Macedonian nationality might have been buried. He personally saw them off in a Skopje suburb on their way to Tetovo, in his well-known style of a pathos-filled-patriot-showman, which the state MTV used extensively in its information programmes.

On that same day, police patrols brought in seven members of the National Liberation Army (NLA). Naturally, Boskovski knew that his "Lions" had been considered a para-police formation until recently and sent them to a NLA-controlled region at the time when the Government Coordinating Body, in charge of monitoring the crisis together with the local OSCE monitors and assisted by the NATO "foxes", was implementing a pilot programme of the return of the police to these parts. Not to mention that Boskovski was fully aware of the promised amnesty for the former NLA members - a commitment undertaken by the Macedonian authorities under the Ohrid Agreement, which NATO Secretary General George Robertson had reminded them of several days ago during his visit. The more so as at the end of his visit Robertson informed of an agreement reached with the President that until the adoption of the Law on Amnesty he would amnesty and pardon convicted and detained NLA members, that the police would no longer arrest them and the Prosecutor would not prosecute new cases. The Interior Minister also undoubtedly knew that the NLA leadership announced violent reaction in case any of its members were arrested before the long-awaited amnesty.

Under such circumstances only someone totally naïve or sure of the consequences of this provocation, could have expected the special units to peacefully take the site deep in the zone which was not under their control and that the arrest of seven prominent NLA members (at the time when the guaranteed amnesty was about to be granted) would provoke no reactions.

It thus happened that in the night between Sunday and Monday around Tetovo 60 to 120 Macedonians (depending on the source) were kidnapped and that a veritable war broke out around the villages of Shemshovo and Neproshteno in which three "Lions" were killed and six more wounded. An even worse thing was avoided thanks to the OSCE, EU representative on the "ground" - Alain Le Roy, as well as the participation of some important persons from Washington, Brussels and New York. In the morning the tensions eased and the Albanian side, more precisely a new formation called the Albanian National Army (ANA), which assumed responsibility for the actions, released all the hostages.

The Tuesday issue (November 13, 2001) of "The Morning Herald" quoting its sources, carried information that at the session of the Security Council (President's advisory body) Prime Minister Georgievski and Speaker Andov demanded the launching of a military action in retaliation for actions of the Albanian side. However, American State Secretary Collin Powell, NATO Secretary General George Robertson and Xavier Solana, who happened to be in New York at that time, gave unison "firm" suggestions opposite to Prime Minister's and Speaker's wishes. Although a member of the Security Council, Vlado Buckovski, Minister of the Interior, was invited to its session with a 40-minute delay. When entering the Parliament and also the Presidency building Buckovski told the rallied representatives of the press that he had been kept in isolation until that moment which was why he expected the Council to inform him in detail of what was happening in the country and at the same time commented on the MUP action: "We will pay for this adventure dearly".

Party's reactions were also negative for the most part. The Democratic Alliance demanded the dismissal of the Interior Minister and initiation of a procedure for determining his political and criminal responsibility and calling of a Parliament's session that would examine the powers of people in charge of security services and debate the lack of unity of the state leadership. According to the Liberal-Democratic Party "the terrorist counter-attack is a consequence of a poorly conceived and prepared action without the coordination of relevant factors on the ground, in which the lives of policemen have been practically sacrificed". The Socialist Party thought that Prime Minister Georgievski was behind such amateurish actions who "allows the clowns to run the police and the state". MAAK - the United Macedonian Action accused the Government for the death of the policemen. Whereas the biggest party opposed to the VMRO-DPMNE (also a member of the national unity Government) - the SDSM thought that "the decision to launch this action has been brought with the blessing of President Trajkovski and Prime Minister Georgievski and calls into question the entire peace process of stabilising Macedonia and is pushing the state into new violence and conflicts".

The media reacted differently to this, depending on their links with various political options. On its front page, "The Morning Herald" under a headline "Controversies about the Operation that Took Three Lives of Policemen: Boskovski Claims He Had Orders while Trajkovski Denies" carried an article entitled "Boskovski's Tragic Adventure". "The News" stated that "Macedonia is again on the verge of civil war" claiming that "three lives were lost unnecessarily". "The Journal" claimed the opposite: "Perfidious Murder and Hostage Drama in Polog". Using testimonies of the released hostages (who stated for other papers that they were treated well and were not abused) this daily reported how they were told that they would be killed if the arrested NLA members were no longer alive. "The Journal" already sentenced them by using qualifications such as "responsible for ethnic cleansing" and "responsible for bomb explosion in "Brioni" motel in Selopek". Similar was the reporting of "The Evening", controlled by a hard-liner VMRO-DPMNE, which carried an article entitled "'Disarmed' Terrorist Killing three Lions in an Ambush".

Finally, even now when thanks to the suggestions of the international community the worst has been avoided, PDP's Central Presidency (which only three days earlier, in the presence of Alain Le Roy, decided quite the opposite)decided that its deputies should vote in favour of constitutional amendments. After Le Roy gave him the PDP's letter stating this explicitly, Speaker Andov called the Parliament to session so as to adopt the constitutional amendments. It will be interesting to see whether the parliamentarians have learned a lesson from the latest, extremely dangerous, incident that might have renewed the war.


Macedonian MPs finally ratify peace-deal reforms for Albanians Posted November 17, 2001,3604,596269,00.html

Macedonian MPs finally ratify peace-deal reforms for Albanians

Nicholas Wood in Pristina and agencies
Saturday November 17, 2001
The Guardian

After months of delays, acrimony and filibustering the Macedonian parliament has finally ratified the peace accord designed to end conflict with its ethnic Albanian minority by giving them greater civil rights.

It passed 15 amendments to the constitution in just under 20 minutes early yesterday. Barely a word was uttered by MPs from the ethnic majority who had spent so much time trying to block the reforms.

Shortly afterwards President Boris Trajkovski announced that all former ethnic Albanian guerrillas, including about 120 detainees and convicts, would be amnestied. Only those indictable by the UN war crimes tribunal were excluded.

The support of MPs from the biggest parliamentary party, the VMRO-DMPNE, vocal opponents of the deal, gave the amendments the required two-thirds majority.

Filip Petrovski, a senior member, said: "Now we will see how the other side will behave, whether they really want human rights or a Greater Albania."

The reforms aim to increase the number of ethnic Albanians in the public services, particularly the police, and enhance local government. The Albanian language will be given more official use. Future legislation affecting civil rights will need a two-thirds majority of ethnic Albanian MPs.

Imer Imeri, leader of the Albanian Democratic Party for Prosperity (PDP), said international pressure would be needed to see the changes properly implemented.

"Our reaction is positive, and it gives up hope. But in practice we are far away from what's being promised on paper," he said.

The MPs came under intense international pressure to pass the amendments when the peace process was put in jeopardy by a bungled security operation ordered by the interior minister, Ljube Boskovski, which resulted in renewed fighting. Three police officers died.

Dozens of gunmen are dug in at Trebos and Semsivo, faced by interior ministry light tanks and armoured cars.

The guerrillas' re-emergence after handing in their weapons to Nato troops in September has added weight to the hardliners' argument that the National Liberation Army was more intent on winning territory than civil reforms.

Yesterday a new threat was posed by a group calling itself the Albanian National Army, which announced a "war for the liberation of all Albanian territories in former Yugoslavia" and said it had been involved in clashes in Macedonia.

But it admitted having only a few dozen members, and a senior NLA figure said it was "not worth commenting on them".

Macedonia Says Reforms Bind Rebels to Accept State Posted November 17, 2001
Saturday November 17 3:15 PM ET

Macedonia Says Reforms Bind Rebels to Accept State
By Mark Heinrich

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia said on Saturday the passage of reforms crucial to a peace accord meant that former guerrillas who fought police a week ago had no more grounds to resist the return of state authorities in the near future.

Bowing to Western diplomatic pressure, parliament enacted improvements to the civil rights of minority Albanians on Friday after six weeks of delay and five days after ex-guerrillas killed three members of special forces sent into their heartland by the nationalist police minister.

The foray, ostensibly intended to secure a ``mass grave'' site, was condemned by diplomats as an attempt to sabotage reforms in parliament by provoking violence with insurgents who feared arrest because an amnesty had yet to be issued.

The bloodshed stirred extraordinary recriminations within the cabinet and the otherwise hawkish Macedonian media for a ''needless sacrifice'' of police lives.

Apparently chastened, Macedonian nationalist leaders stopped blocking parliamentary action on the equal rights amendments stipulated by the August peace accord and they were overwhelmingly ratified on Friday.

President Boris Trajkovski then declared a broad, unequivocal amnesty for rebels not indictable by the U.N. war crimes tribunal. An earlier decree had big loopholes, unnerving rebels already dismayed by parliament's inaction.

But nationalist leaders scored a resonant political point off Sunday's violence, saying it proved ``Albanian terrorists'' had withheld firepower from a NATO (news - web sites) disarmament scheme and could use it against the state in future.


``We see remnants of certain armed groups. (With reforms ratified), they can have no more cause to claim they are fighters for human rights rather than fighters for occupation of territory,'' Trajkovski said at a reception on Saturday.

``The security situation remains very critical,'' said Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski referring to the reappearance of armed Albanian bands outside some villages in response to a nearby build up of special forces following the police killings.

``But the reasons for terrorism are gone now. Nobody can say that state institutions are to blame because our human rights are not up to snuff -- everything requested of us was fulfilled yesterday (by parliament and amnesty decree).''

Georgievski, a nationalist hard-liner with ultimate control over police forces, said there was no reason they could not return to rebel-inhabited territory quickly, although this ''unfortunately'' required talks with Western intermediaries.

Officials in the NATO and European Union (news - web sites)-led peace mission agreed that the onus for proving compliance with the peace accord has shifted back toward the former guerrillas now that the reforms were the law of the land.

The challenge for NATO and EU officials now will be to reconcile the government's impatience to reassert authority over the breakaway north with the locals' hesitancy to accept it before seeing evidence of reforms and amnesty taking effect.

``The key is to thwart the hardline aim to use the passage of reforms as a pretext for a precipitous military response to the slightest incident,'' said Edward Joseph, Macedonia analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank.

``The other key for the internationals is to ensure amnesty and the law on local self-government is not only stipulated but implemented in a real spirit of reconciliation.''

Macedonia OKs Clear Amnesty for Former Guerrillas Posted November 16, 2001
Friday November 16 9:25 AM ET

Macedonia OKs Clear Amnesty for Former Guerrillas

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski declared on Friday that all former ethnic Albanian guerrillas, including convicts, would be covered by an amnesty except those indictable by the U.N. war crimes tribunal.

His proclamation, made in an exchange of letters with the European Union (news - web sites), NATO (news - web sites) and OSCE (news - web sites), plugged loopholes in an earlier decree which had raised tension, but diplomats conceded it was still not watertight because legislation had yet to be passed.

EU and NATO envoys had conducted weeks of lobbying and negotiations to overcome nationalist resistance both to the amnesty and civil rights reforms benefiting minority Albanians. The reforms were ratified by parliament earlier on Friday.

All guerrillas who voluntarily disarmed under a NATO weapons-collection scheme completed on September 26, as well as around 120 rebels in pre-trial detention or serving jail sentences, are to be included in the amnesty.

No one could henceforth be arrested or prosecuted for acts of rebellion or armed violence during the six-month conflict, which ended with the August 13 Ohrid Agreement. Any war-crimes prosecutions would be the sole province of the U.N. tribunal.

Macedonia adopts new constitution Posted November 16, 2001
Friday, 16 November, 2001, 07:36 GMT

Macedonia adopts new constitution

Boris Trajkovski is congratulated on the vote

Macedonia's parliament has adopted a new constitution, enshrining 15 amendments designed to give greater rights to the country's ethnic Albanians.
The vote to ratify the new constitution came after the amendments were approved one-by-one by a large majority (94 deputies voting in favour, with 14 against).

The session was held late at night at the parliament in Skopje to avoid demonstrations by Macedonian nationalists who had disrupted earlier attempts to change the 1991 constitution.

"We repaired the constitution and now we have to repair the mentality that created ethnic conflicts" - Arben Xhaferi, Democratic Party of Albanians

The move ends weeks of political deadlock, which threatened the Western-backed peace accord aimed at bringing to an end the conflict between ethnic Albanian guerrillas and the Macedonian authorities.

Ethnic Albanians make up about one third of the Macedonian population.

The chief provisions of the new constitution include the recognition of Albanian as an official language and increased access for ethnic Albanians to public-sector jobs, including the police.

In addition, references in the constitution's preamble suggesting that minorities are second-class citizens have been removed.

Uneasy peace

The new constitution is part of the peace accord signed at Ohrid in August which ended seven months of violence between the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (NLA) and Macedonian government forces.

Ethnic Albanian MPs have sought equal status

Under the terms of that accord, NLA fighters handed in some 4,000 weapons to Nato and disbanded, and an amnesty was declared in October.

But voting on the new constitution had been stalled for several weeks after prolonged debates and fresh tension between the two communities.

The latest incident occurred on Sunday, when hardline Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski sent special forces into rebel Albanian territory after a series of clashes and kidnappings.

Three Macedonian policemen were killed in an ambush blamed on ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

Arben Xhaferi, leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians, welcomed the constitutional changes.

"We repaired the constitution and now we have to repair the mentality that created ethnic conflicts," he said.

Fighting in northwest Macedonia, three police killed Posted November 12, 2001

Monday November 12, 8:32 AM

Fighting in northwest Macedonia, three police killed

Three policemen were killed and several wounded late Sunday when fighting broke out around the ethnic Albanian village of Treboc in northwest Macedonia after a large contingent of police was sent into the area, an interior ministry official said requesting anonymity.

The fighting started after the arrival of the police sent in by Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski who said he wanted work to begin Monday on digging up the site of a suspected mass grave of 12 missing Macedonian villagers believed killed by ethnic Albanian guerrillas during the recent conflict.

The police arrested seven armed men suspected of being local commanders of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army, saying they were preparing an attack.

The NLA officially disbanded after handing in almost 4,000 of its weapons to NATO in September.

Witnesses in the region told AFP that exchanges of fire broke out between the police deployed near Treboc and armed men inside the village. Shooting was also reported in other villages around the town of Tetovo, including Zilce, Rataje, Poroj and Dzepciste.

According to Macedonian media dozens of Macedonian civilians have been held by ethnic Albanians in protest at the police operation in the region, where representatives of the international community were trying to obtain their release. Television said 70 people were being held in the village of Semsovo near Treboc.

The police decided to close the road from Tetovo to Gostivar 25 kilometres (15 miles) to the south, saying "armed and uniformed" ethnic Albanian rebels were opening fire on cars.

The fighting was the first to break out in Macedonia since the ending of hostilities in August between government forces and the NLA and the subsequent disarming of the guerrillas by NATO troops.

Under a wide peace plan, part of which was signed by Macedonian political parties in August to end the six-month ethnic Albanian uprising, the disarming of the rebels was to be accompanied by the adoption of a new constitution and legislative reforms giving more rights to ethnic Albanians.

But despite heavy pressure from the international community, the political reforms have been held up time and again for two months, largely by hostility from Macedonian nationalists who have blocked the work of parliament.

Boskovski, one of the fiercest opponents of the Ohrid peace accord, decided Sunday to ignore the opposition of the international community by sending his forces into the flashpoint Tetovo region, with the approval of moderate President Boris Trajkovski.

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