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The BBC's Janet Barrie
"This agreement gives Macedonia a window of opportunity"
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Macedonian foreign minister Srjan Kerim
"The 9th of April is a great day for Macedonia"
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Chris Patten, EU External Affairs Commissioner
"We want to see the political dialogue.. go forward as rapidly as possible"
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Monday, 9 April, 2001, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Macedonia signs EU agreement
A Macedonian child in the mainly Albanian town of Tetovo
Tetovo is at peace after last month's fighting
Macedonia has signed a stabilisation and association agreement with the European Union which officials hope will help avert more violence in the country.

This agreement is recognition of all that we have achieved in the last 10 years... At the same time it is an obligation to achieve even more

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski
The signing, in Luxembourg, comes after two weeks of clashes between ethnic Albanian rebels and Macedonian security forces at the end of March.

It puts Macedonia on the path towards eventual EU membership, ahead of all other Balkan states.

EU officials want the agreement to stimulate talks designed to address the grievances of the minority ethnic Albanian community, but in a sign of continuing distrust, one Albanian party - the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP) - refused to join the delegation.

Results promised

In talks with EU foreign ministers, Macedonian leaders said the talks would achieve concrete results by June.

EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana
Javier Solana: Important opportunity
Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim said that the PDP's refusal to take part amounted to "self-isolation" and added that the delegation was nonetheless "very representative".

The Macedonian Government includes members of another ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Party of Albanians.

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski hailed the agreement.

"This agreement is recognition of all that we have achieved in the last 10 years in the fields of democracy, multi-ethnic cohabitation, reforms, regional and international co-operation," he said.

National groups

"At the same time it is an obligation to achieve even more in all these fields in the future."

Ethnic Albanian women
Ethnic Albanian leaders are pushing for better rights for their people
Javier Solana, the EU's chief of foreign and security policy, called the signing "an important opportunity to achieve real progress in moving forward the process of enhanced dialogue".

The BBC's Central Europe correspondent, Nick Thorpe, says that accelerating the country's approach to the EU could help the different national groups living in the country to forget their disagreements.

But diplomats say that if Macedonia hands over a letter formally asking to join the EU, there would have to be a long review before negotiations could even begin.

Albanian demands

Albanians are believed to make up about one third of the population and are demanding the status of an equal nation, not simply a minority in the country alongside the far smaller communities of Turks, Vlachs and others.

Mr Kerim said he did not exclude the possibility of political dialogue with Albanian leaders leading to constitutional change.

"It depends on all political parties," he said.

Three rounds of talks have already been held in Skopje under the chairmanship of President Boris Trajkovski in the search for a Macedonian-Albanian compromise.

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See also:

06 Apr 01 | Europe
Ethnic tension a pan-European ill
03 Apr 01 | Europe
Nato in Macedonia peace drive
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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