- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2001

The Macedonian government yesterday signed a landmark peace agreement with ethnic Albanian leaders to end a six-month rebellion and pave the way for the deployment of 3,500 NATO troops, including Americans, to disarm the rebels.
The United States, having seen a series of failed accords in the Balkans over the past decade, was more cautious in welcoming the agreement than its European allies, the driving force behind the pact.
NATO Secretary-General George Robertson and Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, called the agreement historic and said it marked Macedonia's entry into the "European family of nations."
But the agreement involved only political parties, not the ethnic Albanian rebels, who continued to engage the government in fierce battles as late as yesterday morning.
"It's not an easy process to move forward," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said in Washington. "These are difficult issues for people these are issues that cut to the heart of many people's lives."
NATO has said it will send forces into Macedonia only when the rebels have agreed to disarm something they say they will do only when they are granted an amnesty. Most Macedonians rejected the idea after dozens of soldiers and police died in guerrilla ambushes and hundreds of Macedonian villagers reportedly were driven away by rebels.
Ethnic Macedonias have a clear majority in parliament, which has 45 days to ratify the agreement.
Even as the accord was being signed in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, new clashes were reported in the country's northwest.
Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski told reporters that guerrillas had attacked a border post in the southwest region of Debar, near the Albanian border, but gave no indication of casualties.
Skopje declared a unilateral cease-fire on Sunday, but it had maintained the right to respond if provoked.
The guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (NLA) have been waging an insurgency since February in what they say is a fight for improved rights for the ethnic Albanian minority in the former Yugoslav republic.
Yesterday's agreement, signed at a low-key ceremony in Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski's residence, grants state funding for Albanian higher education and gives the Albanian language limited official status along with Macedonian. Its terms also include a guarantee of police jobs for Albanians, based on their proportion of the overall population.
Mr. Trajkovski fervently appealed to all citizens and parliament to accept the deal. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, a tough nationalist who earlier warned against "capitulation to terrorists," said he hoped "we can add spirit to the agreement because as a piece of paper it's not worth anything."
Commander Shpati, a senior NLA officer whose army was barred from the peace talks, said he expected the accord to bring NLA disarmament, but only if minority rights were implemented at the same time.
President Bush also welcomed the pact. "It's a good sign, but now they need to lay down their arms so we can implement the deal," he told reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Britain's Defense Ministry said 2,000 NATO soldiers would be on the ground within two weeks of the accord's ratification by the Macedonian parliament. As many as half of the troops will be British.
Prime Minister Tony Blair seemed to indicate the troops need not wait for ratification. "Once NATO conditions have been met, NATO's forces, led by the United Kingdom, will deploy rapidly to collect the weapons and ammunition while parliament takes forward the process of agreeing the proposed legislation," he said.
NATO has said it would deploy 3,500 troops to collect guerrilla weapons, including mortars, heavy machine guns and shoulder-fired rocket launchers. But it has demanded that the weapons be handed over voluntarily and the mission be completed in 30 days.
Mr. Robertson wrote in a letter to Mr. Trajkovski yesterday that an amnesty was "an indispensable requirement" for a stable peace, one of NATO's conditions for the beginning of the deployment labeled Operation Essential Harvest.
Mr. Reeker also said Skopje should "open the way to reconciliation by offering an amnesty."

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