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The BBC's Nick Thorpe reports
"At the centre of talks is the delicate problem of Macedonia's constitution"
 real 28k

Monday, 2 April, 2001, 17:50 GMT 18:50 UK
New gunfire as Macedonia talks held
Macedonian special forces in Sipkovica village near Tetovo
The army says the rebellion is over
Talks aimed at ending the grievances of Macedonia's ethnic Albanians have ended in the capital, Skopje, as a 48-hour lull in fighting with rebels was ended by new gunfire.


We are going to continue a dialogue that will allow all sectors, all inhabitants of this country to benefit

President Boris Trajkovski
President Boris Trajkovsi, who chaired the three-and-a-half hours of talks, said afterwards that more discussions would follow on proposals which he had put forward.

He has the delicate task of satisfying the Albanians' demands for more rights without provoking a backlash from the Slav majority - and with pressure from the outside world to turn the country back from war.

The renewed gunfire came in the village of Selce, above the flashpoint city of Tetovo.

Boycott

Security forces exchanged fire with a group of gunmen trying to enter the village, Defence Ministry spokesman Georgi Trendafilov told Reuters news agency.

Monday's talks were attended by the largest ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Party of Albanians, which is in the governing coalition.

But they were boycotted by the main ethnic Albanian opposition party, the Party for Democratic Prosperity.

Ethnic Albanian women in Macedonian village of Sipkovica
Ethnic Albanian leaders are pushing for better rights
President Trajkovski described the boycott as regrettable, but the party defended the move.

"The PDP thinks that this unofficial meeting is intended to daze the international community into believing that some talks are taking place in Macedonia and that dialogue continues," PDP spokesman Zahir Bekteshi told Reuters news agency.

After the talks, President Trajkovski said a dialogue would continue "that would allow all sectors, all inhabitants of this country to benefit."

Demands

"We want to create a society of individuals, not ethnic groups," he said.


The rebels have not gone... they will see the outcome of our negotiations and if they are not happy they will continue again

Albanian leader Arben Xhaferi
The leader of the DPA, Arben Xhaferi, has threatened to pull out of government unless its demands are met within a month.

He has also warned that the rebels will return if progress is not made.

"They have not gone. They are here, in civilian clothes. They will see the outcome of our negotiations and if they are not happy they will continue again," he told the French news agency AFP.

New clashes


The PDP thinks that this unofficial meeting is intended to daze the international community into believing that some talks are taking place in Macedonia

PDP spokesman Zahir Bekteshi
On Monday morning, the army had reported a completely quiet night, and the authorities said the revolt was at an end.

However, their claim a week ago to have successfully driven rebels from the hills around Tetovo proved premature.

It is not clear whether the rebels are dead, have fled into Kosovo, or have blended back into the civilian population.

But correspondents say the brief rebellion has changed the political situation in Macedonia - with the government accepting that the grievances of the Albanian minority have to be addressed, and the hand of Albanian politicians strengthened.

International effort

Both the European Union and Nato are also adding pressure for a settlement, fearing another outbreak of war in the Balkans which could destabilise the whole region.

The EU's foreign affairs commissioner, Chris Patten, and security chief, Javier Solana, travelled to Skopje on Monday for more talks with the president.

"We don't want to be mediators but Mr Solana hopes to find a way of reinvigorating the process and solidifying the national consensus at this time of trouble," said Mr Solana's spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach.

A crowd of around 80 anti-western demonstrators was waiting for them at Mr Trajkovski's office, shouting "fascists" and protesting against the idea of compromising with the ethnic Albanians.

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See also:

29 Mar 01 | Europe
Nato's Kosovo challenge
27 Mar 01 | Europe
EU call for dialogue in Macedonia
26 Mar 01 | Europe
Military forces in Macedonia
18 Mar 01 | Europe
Greater Albania question
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