- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

The United States yesterday praised Macedonia for giving amnesty to ethnic Albanian rebels and promised a "significant" aid package for the former Yugoslav republic at an international donors conference on Tuesday.
The amnesty law passed on Thursday removes the last hurdle to implementing a peace accord brokered last summer by the United States and the European Union and signed in the Macedonian town of Ohrid.
Washington said yesterday it "commends Macedonia's political leadership" for the law's passage and called on all Macedonians "to support and advance peace" and "reject forcefully any that advocate a recourse to violence."
"The United States looks forward to the March 12 international donors conference for Macedonia and to making a significant contribution to international efforts to help Macedonia fully implement the Framework Agreement," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in a statement.
The new law, to which nationalists in parliament had objected for months, encourages the Albanian rebels to come out of their highland strongholds and reintegrate into society. It effectively frees from prosecution several thousand insurgents who took up arms against government forces last year to fight for greater rights.
The amnesty covers crimes such as high treason, mutiny, armed rebellion and conspiracy against the state. But any war crimes committed during the conflict will be investigated by the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
The rebels welcomed the amnesty yesterday and said it would lead to stability and confidence building between the Slav majority and Albanian minority.
"This is a great step for peace," Hajrulla Misini, a former rebel commander known by his nom de guerre, Shpati, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying. "I see no reason anymore for armed conflict in Macedonia."
NATO, which extended the mandate of its 1,000-strong peacekeeping force in the tiny Balkan country for another three months last month at the government's request, also hailed the parliament's vote.
George Robertson, the alliance's secretary-general, said in Brussels that the amnesty was "critical" for lasting peace. He also noted that Macedonia could continue to count on NATO's support in the future.
Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign and defense policy chief, called the amnesty "courageous" and said it shows "the will of the authorities and the citizens to close the chapter of crisis and conflict."
Macedonia has applied to join NATO but is largely seen as one of the candidates that will be left out of the second round of expansion at the Prague summit in November.
*This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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