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No Breakthrough in Macedonia Talks - 2001-07-29

For a second day, International mediators gathered politicians from both sides in Macedonia's five-month ethnic conflict, but it appears there has been no quick breakthrough on key issues.

American and European mediators are meeting in the southwestern city of Ohrid for trying to end a five-month rebellion by ethnic Albanians.

Leaders of the two main Macedonian parties and the two main Albanian parties are negotiating under high security in a presidential villa that once belonged to Yugoslav leader Marshal Tito.

Reports say that the main sticking point in the talks remains the use of the Albanian language. About one-third of Macedonia's population of two million is ethnic Albanian and lives mainly in the north of the country near Kosovo, and in the west near Albania.

Talks broke down more than a week ago after international mediators agreed with the Albanian parties that Albanian should become a second official language in the country, despite Macedonian objections that it would irretrievably divide the country.

Strong international pressure has brought Macedonian leaders back to the bargaining table, but it is not known what compromise formula on the language issue has been proposed.

Meanwhile, the Macedonian army says the rebels, known as the National Liberation Army (NLA), broke a cease-fire overnight.

The army says four missiles were fired at an army barracks near the western city of Tetovo, but no casualties were reported.

In Skopje, Macedonians evicted from their homes in villages near Tetovo protested in front of the parliament Saturday. They demanded government protection from Albanian militants so they can return to their homes, 18 of which they say have been burned to the ground by the NLA.

A crowd of several thousand Macedonians also railed against compromise with ethnic Albanians, saying if Macedonia is to remain one state, it can have only one official language.