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The BBC's Paul Anderson
"The Albanians questioned whether common ground could be found"
 real 56k

VP of Albanian PDP Azif Pollozhani
"The international communty should support our demands"
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Monday, 9 July, 2001, 22:12 GMT 23:12 UK
Macedonians talk peace
Ethnic Albanians returning across the Kosovo-Macedonian border
The ceasefire prompted some Albanians to return home
Talks between Macedonian and ethnic Albanian politicians aimed at ending the country's five-month-old conflict have continued in the capital, Skopje, behind closed doors.

The talks are the first formal face-to-face negotiations for nearly three weeks, and Western sources say they got off to a positive start.

The two Macedonian and Albanian parties taking part had shown up and no-one was shouting at each other, the sources said.

The United States special envoy, James Pardew, said all the parties were committed to working productively with the framework peace document drawn up by international experts.

The people here need to resolve their own differences and not have a military occupation force

Western diplomat in Skopje
A BBC correspondent in Skopje, Paul Anderson, says the problems will start when the two sides begin negotiations on the details of the document.

On Sunday, Albanian leaders issued grave warnings that the document fell far short of what they wanted.

The vice-president of one of the Albanian parties taking part in the talks, Azif Pollozhani, said the plans were unacceptable because they failed to address key Albanian demands for more equal language, educational and constitutional rights.

The document is thought to propose:

  • greater use of the Albanian language in official business
  • more Albanians in public service jobs
  • the devolution of power to mayors and municipalities
  • increased opportunities for study in the Albanian language
  • constitutional changes so that Albanians feel they are equal citizens.

The US special envoy and his European Union counterpart presented the document after a Nato-brokered ceasefire between government troops and the ethnic Albanian rebels cleared the way for political dialogue.

If the ceasefire does stay in place and progress is made in the political talks, then Nato has said it will authorise the deployment of about 3,000 troops to disarm rebels in the north of the country, possibly before the end of the month.

Shaky ceasefire

Reports from Macedonia say the ceasefire, which began shakily on Thursday, is clearly under strain, with both sides reporting minor violations over the weekend.

However, there is much more optimism about this ceasefire than previous attempts to end hostilities between government forces and the guerrillas, who have been battling for control of villages in the north of the country since February.

Some ethnic Albanians who fled to Kosovo have been returning in the last couple of days.

Macedonia key moments
26 February
Clashes between ethnic Albanians and Macedonian army begin
11 May
Government of national unity formed
11 June
Rebels threaten capital, Skopje
24 June
Nato-backed truce sparks riots outside parliament
5 July
Government and rebels sign Nato-brokered ceasefire
A truce, struck with the help of EU's foreign policy representative, Javier Solana, had technically already been in place since 24 June, but was broken on an almost daily basis.

Nato will only send troops into Macedonia if the rebels are ready to disarm voluntarily.

One Western diplomat warned that Albanians should not expect another Nato mission on the same scale as those sent earlier to Bosnia and Kosovo.

"The people here need to resolve their own differences and not have a military occupation force," the diplomat said.

"Talk here, talk now, that is the best option you have."

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See also:

06 Jul 01 | Europe
Macedonia truce holds
06 Jul 01 | Europe
James Pardew: Balkan peacemaker
29 Jun 01 | Europe
Nato approves Macedonia force
28 May 01 | Europe
The Albanian fund-raising machine
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