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Macedonian Official Asks Rebels to Give up Territory Before Talks - 2001-08-02

Macedonia's prime minister said [Thursday] that before the government signs an accord to end months of fighting, ethnic-Albanian rebels must give up territory they now hold. The prime minister's remarks, made on the country's national holiday, cast a shadow over peace talks set to resume Friday.

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said even if a peace deal is struck with ethnic-Albanian political leaders, signing it under duress would bring shame on the country.

In a speech marking Macedonia's national day, Mr. Georgievski said he hoped negotiations to end an ethnic Albanian insurgency would be successful. But he went on to say that Macedonians would be humiliated if an accord were signed now, while what he called "terrorists" are occupying dozens of villages near the borders with Albania and Kosovo.

The prime minister said, "We must take back our occupied territories because we can't close our eyes to the fact that we are talking under the threat of guns."

However, in an illustration of the divisions among ethnic-Macedonian leaders, the country's foreign minister, Ilinka Mitreva, delivered a speech Thursday sharply critical of Macedonian hard-liners.

She described them as "artificial heroes" who are, quote, "offering primitive formulas saying that dialogue equals weakness, with which they are beating the drums of war."

Peace talks are set to resume in the southwestern town of Ohrid Friday. On Wednesday, political leaders reportedly made significant progress when they agreed on a compromise formula for expanded official use of the Albanian language. Friday's discussions are expected to shift to proposals for police reforms.

Until now, talks have only been held among the leaders of Macedonia's four largest political parties. But before any final deal could take effect, parliament would have final say over passage of a series of legal and constitutional reforms.

Macedonia's parliament speaker, Stoyan Andov, who is a close political ally of the prime minister, also addressed a crowd celebrating Thursday's holiday.

Mr. Andov said the legislature would not consider ratifying a peace accord until all ethnic Albanian guerrillas are disarmed.

Ethnic-Albanian rebel leaders have said they would disarm and disband voluntarily only if they had legal guarantees of greater rights for ethnic Albanians.