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Peace Negotiations To Resume in Macedonia - 2001-07-27

Talks aimed at ending five months of ethnic violence in Macedonia are set to begin Saturday. The talks had earlier been scheduled to take place in Tetovo, the scene of heavy fighting earlier in the week but the venue has been changed to the southern city of Ohrid.

President Boris Trajkovski had announced that talks between ethnic Albanian and Macedonian political parties would resume on Friday.

However, political leaders did not travel to the western city of Tetovo, the venue set for the discussions because of security concerns.

In the meantime, Western diplomats are reported to have met individually with senior Macedonian politicians, seeking to maintain momentum for the peace process.

When the talks do resume, it is likely to be tough going because Albanian leaders say they will stand firm on their key demand for greater language rights.

Menduh Thaci, the deputy leader of the largest ethnic Albanian party, said, "If somebody thinks that the Albanians should be killed because they demand to use their own language, then that is racism and apartheid."

Macedonian state television reported that many of the ethnic Macedonian refugees taken back to their homes by a NATO-escorted convoy Thursday returned to Skopje after they found their belongings looted or destroyed.

People from the village of Lesok near Tetovo said they felt they could not remain in their homes without police or army protection.

Meanwhile, non-essential U.S. government personnel in Macedonia have been ordered to leave the country, and those remaining are required to observe a curfew for security reasons.

Anti-Western riots targeted the American Embassy Tuesday and led to the deployment of about 50 U.S. Marines from Italy to guard U.S. government property in Macedonia.