- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2001

SKOPJE, Macedonia — Lawmakers halted debate yesterday on legislation meant to give ethnic Albanians more rights, a move that could stall Macedonia's fragile peace process.
Parliament Speaker Stojan Andov said it was impossible for deputies to go ahead amid barricades on roads and protests staged by those opposed to concessions to ethnic Albanians. There was no indication when the debate would resume.
Although Macedonians also have erected roadblocks to underscore their demands, Mr. Andov singled out an ethnic Albanian barricade for criticism as he adjourned the debate.
Even before the suspension, the first day of debate ended on a jarring note late Friday with several radical deputies from VMRO, the top party in the Macedonian government, denouncing the proposed constitutional changes.
"Macedonia is under the gun to pass constitutional changes, and those who oppose them are falsely accused of promoting war," Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski was quoted as saying in the Vecer newspaper.
He urged a nationwide referendum on the constitutional changes, suggesting that would relieve legislators of the burden of responsibility.
The changes would make Albanian an official language in areas where ethnic Albanians comprise more than 20 percent of the population, and would provide a degree of self-rule for them there. It would also ensure ethnic Albanians proportional representation in the government and police, as well as in the Constitutional Court, which has final say in legislative matters.
Angry Macedonians kept up the blockades. One, on the border with neighboring Kosovo, was to protest the arrival of NATO troops for "Essential Harvest" — the mission to collect arms surrendered by ethnic Albanian rebels as part of the peace deal.
Elsewhere, Macedonians from Dzepciste village, along a northwestern road toward Kosovo, set up their own barricade, demanding rebels release five persons held as hostages.
Many Macedonians are angry about the peace plan, claiming the ethnic Albanian insurgency was rewarded through concessions to the minority.
Another roadblock, by ethnic Albanian villagers from the northwestern village of Poroj, prevented a convoy of Macedonian refugees from nearby Vratnice from returning to the capital, Skopje, after visiting the homes they fled during the six-month insurgency.
Mr. Andov accused ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army, or NLA, of mounting the Poroj roadblock. "We demand that terror over innocent civilians cease, and that all blockades are cleared," he said. "The parliament showed readiness to debate the peace accord, but this cannot take place as long as there is mass harassing of civilians by the NLA."
By yesterday afternoon, Macedonian state television reported that the convoy had been allowed through.
The parliament debate is part of a step-by-step process meant to culminate in more rights for ethnic Albanians once the rebels hand in their weapons to NATO. Before NATO can begin the second phase of weapons collection, 80 deputies in the 120-seat assembly must vote in favor of amending the constitution.
As planned, the alliance stopped collecting arms on Thursday after culling about a third of the 3,300 weapons offered by the rebels.

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