- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 17, 2001

SKOPJE, Macedonia Macedonian President Boris Trajkovsky appealed to the international community yesterday to help restore stability to the volatile Balkan state after the country's parliament proclaimed a new constitution that broadens rights for the ethnic Albanian minority.
Macedonia's leaders now face a new crucial step in the peace process implementing an amnesty for ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (NLA), whose conflict with government forces from February to August brought the country to the brink of civil war.
The constitution was approved by a large majority after a much-delayed debate, with 94 deputies voting in favor and only 14 voting against measures that form the backbone of a Western-backed peace plan signed in August.
The tension in Macedonia, which officials here in Skopje charged was fed by ethnic Albanian groups operating in neighboring Kosovo, threatened to ignite a new round of ethnic clashes in the region and had caused major concern in both Washington and leading European capitals.
Mr. Trajkovsky immediately gave assurances that the promised amnesty for NLA rebels would be honored.
"Immunity will be applied to former NLA fighters who voluntarily handed over their arms [to NATO] before September 26," the president confirmed in a letter to NATO Secretary-General George Robertson, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana.
Mr. Trajkovsky confirmed that authorities would be instructed not to arrest anyone under immunity or start legal proceedings against them, the only exception being rebels suspected by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of committing crimes.
He praised parliament for its "courageous decision in difficult circumstances," but said there was still much work to do and called for the restoration of state sovereignty and law across the land.
The 15 amendments to the 1991 constitution approved overnight make Albanian Macedonia's second official language, give ethnic Albanians a voice in parliament and other public bodies, and guarantee their political, religious and cultural rights.
The modified preamble to the constitution says ethnic Albanians and other minority groups are "peoples" alongside the Macedonian majority.
The vote came six weeks later than scheduled under the August peace accord, as debate laid bare continuing divisions within parliament and the majority Macedonian community.
In a television address, Mr. Trajkovsky urged Western nations to "meet their responsibilities" and he called for a donor conference to be held as soon as possible in order to rebuild Macedonia's ruined economy.
Such a conference had been planned for mid-October, but was put off because of the lack of progress on the domestic political front. However, European envoy Alain Le Roy said it could be held in mid-December as long as conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund are met.
Three Macedonian policemen were killed a week ago in an attack blamed by the authorities on rebels from the NLA, which has officially disbanded. It was the first armed clash since the August peace accord was signed.


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