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Macedonia Parliament Continues Peace Plan Debate - 2001-09-04

Macedonia's parliament is moving nearer to a vote that could clear the first hurdle on the road to a peace agreement. Despite harsh words for the international community, Macedonia's prime minister says he will support the accord. Macedonia's parliament continues to debate a controversial peace accord.

The plan centers on a package of constitutional changes that would grant increased rights to the country's ethnic-Albanian minority.

While many Macedonians oppose the measure, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski gave his support to the plan in a speech to lawmakers late Monday. But as he did so, he bitterly complained that there was no alternative.

He said the country was being held at gunpoint by ethnic-Albanian guerrillas, who would now be rewarded for their six-month campaign of violence. Prime Minister Georgievski said, "We are sending a great gift to all terrorists ... the message that terrorism pays off." The prime minister said international pressure was forcing the country to comply with the reforms. "We must look reality in the eye ... and realize Macedonia is not only under military embargo, but also in an economic blockade," he said.

Despite his nominal support, some members of Mr. Georgievski's VMRO party are expected to vote against the plan in a procedural vote expected later Tuesday.

Western diplomats expect the measure to win a needed two-thirds majority. If it passes, ethnic-Albanian guerrillas are expected to resume handing over their weapons to NATO's Operation Essential Harvest.

A NATO spokesman would not say when the disarmament would restart, but said the troops could set up a new weapons collection site on short notice.

There is growing speculation about what will happen after NATO completes its 30-day mission in Macedonia. Even though the guerrillas will be nominally disarmed, the conflict could re-ignite if security forces clash with the civilian population in formerly rebel-held areas.

United States diplomat James Pardew, who helped mediate the peace accord under debate by the lawmakers, says a new international mission may be needed.

One option under consideration, Mr. Pardew said, is that international organizations like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union step up their presence to monitor the situation in Macedonia. But Mr. Pardew said "that does raise the question of whether or not there is adequate security for them and then of whether there should be an extension of the military mandate."

Any extension of the NATO mission would require a new mandate from the alliance's 19 member countries and consent from the Macedonian government.