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NATO Leader Hopeful of Peaceful End to Macedonia Conflict - 2001-09-15

NATO's Secretary General George Robertson visited Macedonia Friday, praising progress on a peace plan for the Balkan country.

NATO's political leader says Macedonia remains high on the alliance's agenda, despite Tuesday's terrorist attacks in the United States.

Following meetings with government officials, NATO's Secretary General George Robertson expressed his optimism that Macedonia's six-month ethnic conflict will come to a peaceful end. "In this week of grim tragedy for the whole world, I believe Macedonia offers a ray of hope for how conflicts can be resolved without violence and through politics," he said.

Mr. Robertson spent the day meeting with Macedonia's president, prime minister and other political leaders in support of peace agreement signed last month.

He said that, despite the tragic events this week in the United States, Macedonia remains important to the alliance and NATO would remain engaged there. "The very fact that I'm here 48 hours after the declaration of an Article 5 is clear and visible and unmistakable evidence that Macedonia still matters and still remains high on the agenda," he said.

Mr. Robertson said he also discussed the importance of peace in Macedonia on Thursday in a phone conversation with U.S. President George Bush. "I hope the people of Macedonia will recognize that the president of the United States is thinking of them at this time of tragedy and that they should continue to think about their future and the opportunities that the Americans and the other NATO countries have provided to them," he said.

Many obstacles remain to be cleared in Macedonia's peace process. Parliament must now begin detailed consideration of a package of constitutional amendments now on the table. Mr. Robertson stressed that an amnesty, already proposed by Macedonia's president, must also be quickly put into law.

"But clearly that now has got to be the subject of legislation and legislation that must come into effect by the end of the disarmament process. I'm confident that the legislation will be passed, because without clearly there will be a serious crisis that will develop," he said.

Discussions were also held on the key issue of security for an expected force of international monitors who will oversee a return of government security forces to rebel-held areas. Mr. Robertson said he received new proposals from the Macedonian government on the issue, but declined to give details.