The United States Tuesday hailed the progress made in Macedonia since a Western-brokered peace accord ended ethnic fighting there one year ago. It urged Macedonian authorities to build on those gains by holding free and fair parliamentary elections next month.
The Ohrid Peace Accord named after the Macedonian town where it was concluded brought the country back from the brink of civil war and laid a foundation for power sharing between the Macedonian majority and the ethnic Albanian minority.
But political tensions and sporadic acts of violence continue, and the State Department is making clear its hope that the September 15 parliamentary elections will move the country farther along toward political stability.
More than 3,000 candidates from some 30 political parties will be running for the 120 seats in the parliament. Recent elections in the Balkans state have been marred by allegations of fraud and voter intimidation. Briefing reporters, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker emphasized that next month's vote will be key to the country's future and closely-watched from the outside.
"Macedonia's upcoming democratic elections must serve to solidify the gains made this past year," he said. "The world will be watching to see how Macedonia conducts those elections. We look to Macedonia's leaders to ensure that the elections are fair, freed from violence, in conformity with international standards, and that the results are respected."
The spokesman paid tribute to Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski and other leaders for what he called "significant" progress in enacting the Ohrid framework commitments, which gave the Albanian community a greater say in national affairs and provided for the NATO-supervised disarmament of ethnic-Albanian rebels.
He said Macedonians have much to be proud of in what he said were "courageous" decisions to reduce tensions, build bridges between ethnic communities and reinforce the framework of a civil society. He said the United States and its European allies will continue to stand by that country in supporting peace and economic renewal.