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Macedonia to Consider Further Measures of Peace Agreement - 2002-01-08

Macedonia's parliament is set to reconvene January 14 to consider further measures to implement last August's peace agreement that ended six months of armed conflict with ethnic Albanian rebels. Macedonians are in a sullen mood with many blaming the western powers for forcing through an agreement they believe favors the minority Albanians.

The framework agreement negotiated at Lake Ohrid that ended months of armed conflict in Macedonia is still not fully implemented. The European Union and the United States say that until parliament adopts measures granting autonomy to Albanian-populated areas promised budgetary assistance will remain blocked. Macedonia had hoped that a conference of aid donors would have taken place last October and that by now aid would be flowing into the country.

Fighting has stopped in Macedonia and a German-led NATO force for several months now has been effectively keeping the peace. Under terms of the peace agreement, the rebels handed over more than 3,000 weapons in return for amnesty. More than 200 cease-fire monitors are in Macedonia and ethnic tension has been reduced.

But with Macedonia facing parliamentary elections - possibly as early as May - aside from the president Boris Trajkovsky few politicians Macedonian or Albanian are willing to say that the ethnic conflict is being resolved.

Some observers fear that fighting could resume once the heavy winter snows have melted.

Macedonian public opinion has turned solidly away from support for NATO, and the popularity of the politicians who signed the Ohrid accord has plummeted.

One analyst observes that the majority Macedonians feel frustrated believing the peace accord was forced upon them compromising their national identity. Meanwhile, the minority Albanians are seen as winners because they have won the right to use their language in parliament, exercise regional autonomy and have much greater representation in the police force.

Stability in Macedonia is critical to the future of the southern Balkans. With only two million inhabitants, the mountainous Republic of Macedonia is bordered by states suffering their own significant recent problems. To the northwest is Kosovo, a base for last year's insurgency, where there is a large NATO and United Nations presence. Macedonia's other neighbors are Serbia to the north, Bulgaria, Albania and Greece. Each of these neighbors is very concerned about the possibility of renewed ethnic conflict in Macedonia.