- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2001

From combined dispatches
SKOPJE, Macedonia — Ethnic Albanian guerrillas agreed yesterday to give up their weapons, diplomatic and rebel sources said, increasing the likelihood of an early deployment of NATO peacekeepers.
The deal follows a landmark political accord signed Monday to end discrimination against minority Albanians. The sources said the rebels agreed to disarm only after receiving an amnesty from the Macedonian government and a definite timetable for the promised reforms.
"They have agreed to disarm. Things are falling into place but the jigsaw is not completed yet," said one source familiar with the difficult negotiations between NATO envoys and the guerrillas.
NATO said the ambassadors of its 19 member states would meet today to weigh whether conditions were ripe for "Operation Essential Harvest," under which NATO troops — including Americans — will collect rebel arms.
But the peace prospects were complicated by reports that government troops rampaged on the weekend through a village near the capital, killing civilians and burning houses.
International officials who visited the village of Ljuboten confirmed bodies had been found, but would not say how many. The government acknowledged that five ethnic Albanians were killed, but said none was a civilian.
Under the disarmament agreement reached yesterday, President Boris Trajkovski agreed not to prosecute rebels although anyone liable for prosecution at the U.N. war-crimes tribunal in The Hague will be excluded.
The rebels "wouldn't have signed an agreement to disarm unless the amnesty was looking good," one of the diplomatic sources said.
An amnesty law must be enacted by parliament where there may be resistance from powerful nationalists mindful of public opinion inflamed by dozens of deaths of policemen and soldiers in guerrilla ambushes.
The rebels are to surrender weapons, which include mortars and heavy machine guns, to 3,500 NATO troops who will deploy in Macedonia for 30 days once the alliance judges that a repeatedly broken cease-fire is solid enough.
A source close to Ali Ahmeti, political leader of the so-called National Liberation Army, confirmed that Mr. Ahmeti "agreed on a disarmament document." The guerrillas will relinquish their arms to NATO troops, who will remove them for destruction abroad, he said.
President Bush yesterday welcomed Monday's peace agreement and telephoned Mr. Trajkovski to congratulate him on the accord. He issued a written statement urging the Macedonian parliament to implement the deal.
"We're making good progress on Macedonia it looks like," Mr. Bush told reporters during a visit to Estes Park, Colo. "That part of the world is beginning to calm down a little bit."
Alliance sources said conditions for deploying the weapons-collection force to Macedonia were close to being fulfilled. "It could take place earlier than we thought," said NATO spokesman Yves Brodeur.
The NATO weapons-collection mission is conditioned upon a stable cease-fire, a rebel commitment to disarm and an amnesty to deter future reprisals by security forces that could reignite hostilities after NATO troops leave.
NATO has said the rebels will also be required to withdraw to lines of July 5. This would mark a big retreat from the fringes of Skopje and Tetovo, the second-largest northern city, that may be opposed by hard-line elements in the less than cohesive NLA.
It was in Ljuboten, outside Skopje, that government forces conducted the offensive with mortars and tanks on Sunday that led to the massacre claims. The operation was in response to a land mine that killed eight soldiers two days before.
The few ethnic Albanians who remained in the village yesterday told the Associated Press that police killed at least nine civilians, burned and looted 25 houses and killed up to five dozen sheep and cattle. The victims' bodies, scattered on the streets, remained unburied until yesterday.
Harald Schenker, a spokesman for an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe delegation that visited Ljuboten yesterday, said "some bodies have been found." He declined to elaborate.
Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski said: "There was not any massacre of civilians in the Ljuboten village." He said five ethnic Albanians who were killed in the fighting belonged to a "terrorist group."
In spite of the report, a NATO official in Brussels said yesterday the cease-fire was "not holding badly." About 15 special NATO experts are expected in Skopje shortly to review the oft-broken pact.
Some rebel chieftains yesterday praised the political accord granting Macedonia's one-third Albanian minority greater language, job, religious and higher education rights and one predicted the NLA would disband if they were implemented.
Majority Macedonians, however, believe the NLA is bent on seizing territory for fusion with Kosovo and Albania.

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