Macedonia's leaders signed an historic agreement Monday, designed to increase the rights of the ethnic Albanian minority and end a six-month ethnic Albanian insurgency. NATO Secretary General George Robertson participated in the signing of the accord, which is considered the first step in a planned disarmament of the guerrillas by NATO troops.
Mr. Robertson praised the leaders of the four largest political parties and the country's president for signing the deal.
"The agreement opens the way to a peaceful and lasting solution to the crisis affecting this country," he said. "There is light at the end of the tunnel, a very dark tunnel, but the agreement must be implemented quickly," Mr. Robertson said.
Implementing the agreement will allow a planned force of 3,500 NATO troops to deploy in Macedonia to disarm the National Liberation Army (NLA) rebels.
Mr. Robertson said a team of 15 military advisers would arrive in Macedonia Tuesday to begin plans for the weapons collection mission.
Macedonia's Parliament is expected to vote on constitutional changes foreseen in the accord in the coming weeks. However, NATO deployment is expected to begin before final passage of the reforms, which would make Albanian a second official language in some parts of Macedonia. The accord also foresees far greater participation of Albanians in police and public administration. Mr. Robertson explained why he sees the agreement as benefiting, not only ethnic Albanians, but all citizens of Macedonia. "Number one: for the first time in the country's history, there will be multi-ethnic support for a unitary state. Secondly, there will be no so-called NLA. Thirdly, there will be no more violence in Macedonia. Fourthly, there will be no partition of this country, and fifthly there will be no displaced people inside or just outside this country," Mr. Robertson continued. "All of that has been achieved by modernizing the Macedonian constitution to bring it into line with modern European practice."
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said the accord was the product of close cooperation among the United States, the European Union and Macedonia's leaders. "We wanted to help them to construct a country with a brilliant future and closer to the European institutions. We wanted to help them construct a country in which everybody, everybody, could feel at home under the same constitution," Solana said.
However, Mr. Solana cautioned Macedonia's leaders there is much work still to be done to put the deal into effect. "With all my respect, I would like to tell them, we may sign an infinite number of agreements. If there is no leadership to move the agreement into practice, nothing is done," Solana said.
Mr. Solana said Macedonian politicians needed to do more to explain the deal to the public, in order to build political support for the reform package.
Planned demonstrations in Skopje against the signing did not take place and a cease-fire in effect since late Sunday appeared to be holding.