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The European Union's Javier Solana
"The government has to be in control of the armed forces"
 real 28k

Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK
Macedonia coalition in disarray
Weapons captured from ethnic Albanian rebels
Macedonian forces are still engaging rebels in the north
The Macedonian Government is in a state of confusion over suggestions that the constitution should be changed to accommodate ethnic Albanian rebel demands.

Coalition parties are holding urgent talks after Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski proposed the changes on Wednesday.

Lyubco Georgievski
Georgievski said Macedonia might have to bow to pressure
He said that international pressure might force Macedonia to recognise ethnic Albanians as a constituent nationality, rather than a minority, and to adopt Albanian as the country's second official language.

Correspondents say Mr Georgievski's comments mark a major shift in the government's approach to ethnic Albanian demands, which has so far been unbending.


We have an obligation towards the international community to create a Macedonia that will suit the (ethnic) Albanians

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski
The leader of one ruling party - Branko Crvenovski of the Social Democratic Alliance - said the prime minister had gone too far, and threatened to withdraw from the coalition.

But a leading member of one of the ethnic Albanian parties in the coalition said the prime ministers remarks - coming as a grudging response to international pressure, rather than a gesture of good will - were unacceptable.

"We cannot accept the way Georgievski speaks about this," said Azis Polozhani of the Party of Democratic Prosperity.


"This is inflammatory talk that could push us into an even deeper crisis."

Mr Georgievski himself said the moves he suggested could be seen as a capitulation to rebel demands and lead to renewed violence later.

Meanwhile President Boris Trajkovski is reported to have proposed a partial amnesty to the rebels fighting the government in the north of the country.

Reports of fighting near the northern village of Matejce - involving tanks and light artillery - come amid renewed concern over the fate of up to 10,000 civilians trapped in other villages nearby.

Mistreatment

The Red Cross has described the situation in the most overcrowded village, Lipkovo, as "desperate".

Its normal population of 4,500 has swollen to 10,000 because of the influx of people fleeing from other villages involved in the fighting.

International humanitarian agencies say that only a handful of civilians left the battle zone during a lull in the fighting on Wednesday.


The government's actions are at odds with its legal obligations and stated intent to minimise civilian casualties

Human Rights Watch

The US-based group Human Rights Watch said it had evidence that non-combatants had been treated brutally by security forces during previous evacuations.

It called on the government to investigate claims by civilians that government troops had beaten them and burned their houses earlier this month.

The United Nations says 18,000 people have fled Macedonia since the beginning of the conflict, and 9,000 have been internally displaced.

Separate peace plan

The Macedonian coalition, hailed as a major step forward when it was formed two weeks ago, almost fell apart last week when ethnic Albanian politicians signed a peace agreement with the rebels.

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski
Mr Trajkovski is working on an amnesty
Macedonian politicians refuse to negotiate with the guerrillas.

The disagreements were patched up with the help of the European Union's security chief, Javier Solana.

"The sooner they agree, the better for all of them," he said in Prague on Thursday.

The parties have set 15 June as a deadline for substantial progress in calming ethnic tensions.

Ethnic Albanians make up between a quarter and a third of Macedonia's population of two million.

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See also:

31 May 01 | Europe
Macedonia's road to peace?
28 May 01 | Europe
Macedonia blasts rebel village
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