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New Violence Feared in Macedonia - 2001-09-02


Macedonia's parliament says it will resume debate Monday on approving a Western-mediated peace agreement. The debate was unexpectedly postponed Saturday, sparking new fears that violece would escalate.

After two days of anti-Albanian protests outside the parliament building and political wrangling among ethnically divided legislators, there are no signs the various political parties had come any closer to adopting a peace agreement to end six-months of conflict.

Parliament Speaker Stojan Andov has said the crucial parliamentary debate on the peace deal will continue only if the president promises that all people who fled the fighting can return home.

There have been reports that ethnic-Albanian gunmen hiding in the mountains have prevented refugees from returning to their towns and villages. The U.N. refugee agency says up to 125,000 people remain displaced and many homes have been destroyed or damaged.

Macedonians who fled their homes have led protests against the peace deal, which they say is selling out the country at gunpoint to ethnic-Albanian guerillas. But even if the refugees are allowed to return, new tensions indicate reconciliation between the ethnic groups will take time.

Macedonian police officials reported a firebomb destroyed a teahouse in an ethnic-Albanian district of the capital, Skopje. Other bomb attacks were reported to have damaged an ethnic-Albanian house and a car belonging to a Macedonian company.

Western diplomats say these kinds of incidents will only increase if Parliament refuses to accept the peace deal.

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and other government officials have urged a nationwide referendum on the constitutional changes required under the plan. But ethnic-Albanian leaders have say they would not support such a referendum.

The peace deal would give more political and language rights to Macedonia's 600,000 ethnic Albanians.

Analysts say that with general elections scheduled for January, some lawmakers may be seeking a way to avoid voting for ethnic-Albanian concessions that have been strongly denounced by many Macedonians.

But Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski told Parliament earlier that while the peace deal may not be perfect, it was the best way to bring stability to the troubled Balkan nation.

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