Macedonia's peace process veered off track Friday when parliament failed to pass a key constitutional amendment. Lawmakers are postponing further meetings on ratification of a peace agreement until Monday.
Macedonian hard-liners are blocking passage of a peace agreement in parliament after voting down part of a package of reforms.
While only three of 15 constitutional amendments got preliminary approval with bare majorities, a fourth amendment failed to pass by one vote in a secret ballot. The issue under consideration would substitute language declaring the Orthodox faith Macedonia's official church with a clause giving equal mention to the Muslim and Catholic communities.
With the parliament in recess over the weekend, political leaders are holding consultations about how to proceed. One opposition politician says the Prime Minister's VMRO party intentionally stopped the process by voting against the amendment. But he said the vote did not kill the measure, which could be revived if it comes to an open roll-call vote when debate resumes.
He also said that by stalling ratification of the peace accord, Macedonians were also delaying a donors' conference that is expected to provide millions of dollars in reconstruction and other aid from the international community.
Much work remains before the reform package agreed by political leaders last month can take effect. Once the current series of interim votes is complete, the entire deal must win a two-thirds majority, and a separate amnesty for rebel fighters must be enacted.
However, Macedonian hard-liners are threatening to open up some provisions of the agreement in an attempt to water down wording they say goes too far in favor of minority ethnic Albanians. National Liberation Army guerrillas counter that any eleventh-hour changes to the peace agreement would mean a return to war.
Meanwhile, eight people were arrested in the August 27 killing of a British paratrooper serving in NATO's weapons collection mission in Macedonia. All of them are teen-agers from the Skopje area, accused of throwing a concrete block from a highway overpass, killing the soldier as he passed below in an army jeep.