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NLA to Disarm as Promised - 2001-08-20


In his first public appearance, the leader of ethnic Albanian insurgents in Macedonia said his National Liberation Army, or NLA, will disarm as promised. The statement bolsters hopes that a planned NATO weapons collection mission will soon deploy in the Balkan country. However, the truce was broken Sunday evening by sustained gunfire outside the city of Tetovo.

NLA political leader Ali Ahmeti says his fighters are ready to meet commitments made under a NATO-borkered peace plan signed last week.

He says that his fighters are ready to lay down their weapons and disband, after most of their political demands were met in the accord, reached by Macedonian and ethnic Albanian leaders.

Speaking in a remote village above the city of Tetovo, where much of the fighting has been focused, Mr. Ahmeti declared the six-month campaign by ethnic Albanian guerrillas a success.

He said it is "A victory, definitely. It's a victory, not only for Albanians, but also for the Slav Macedonians. We won the rights that we didn't have. They won the democracy that they didn't have."

He says that the United States and European Union are guarantors of the accord, which would grant increased rights for ethnic Albanians once it is ratified by parliament.

Winning those rights, he said, will make a difference in the every day life of ethnic Albanians, who make up more than 20 percent of Macedonia's population.

"Albanians won't be discriminated against in this state," he said. "They won't feel like outsiders, like second-class citizens in this state. Instead they will be equal."

NATO officials were reportedly pleased that the disarmament plan, agreed in closed-door talks, has now been affirmed in public.

For the first time in a week, no fighting was reported overnight Saturday. However, on Sunday evening, there was shelling and sustained gunfire, possibly jeopardizing a shaky cease-fire.

The truce is a pre-condition for the full deployment of 3,500 NATO troops, who would enter Macedonia for a 30-day mission to take guns turned in by the NLA.

About 400 troops have arrived to prepare for an eventual mission. NATO's top military official, U.S. General Joseph Ralston, is to arrive in Macedonia Monday to observe the preparations and lead an assessment of the cease-fire, before NATO makes its final decision on whether to go ahead with the mission.

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