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Tuesday, 14 August, 2001, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
Analysis: Stop-start search for peace
Macedonian soldier
A Macedonian soldier looks at rebel positions
South-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos reports on the tortuous negotiations which led to the peace agreement.

There was widespread expectation in Macedonia that after six weeks of talks, a peace deal was finally within reach.

That optimism was prompted by a weekend agreement at the talks on Lake Ohrid on boosting ethnic Albanian representation in the police force.

A few days earlier the two sides had concluded a conditional deal on increasing the status of the Albanian language in Macedonia - the other main issue on the table.

Macedonian demand

But then 10 Macedonian soldiers were killed in a fierce gun battle with ethnic Albanian guerrillas - prompting the temporary withdrawal of a major Macedonian party from peace talks.

Nevertheless, Western mediators were still predicting that a deal would be singed.

Burnt out house
The latest agreement had raised hopes for an end to the fighting
The developments follow Prime Minister Georgievski's reported demand that the ethnic Albanian guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (NLA) should hand in their weapons before parliament, the Sobranie, could ratify the agreement being discussed in Ohrid.

Mr Georgievski's 11th-hour intervention - not for the first time - slowed down the peace process.

The foreign mediators insisted there was not much they could do about this demand because their role was to find a political settlement - not to broker a military accord.

The demand was dropped, and the deal initialled.
Anti-agreement protests
Previous agreements have been met by nationalist Macedonian protests
The general expectation is that while the ratification process goes through parliament - and that could take up to 45 days - the NLA will hand in some of their weapons to a Nato contingent and the fighters will, in effect, be demobilised.

Although everyone is reluctant to acknowledge that the NLA has been part of the current negotiating process, Nato's envoy, Pieter Feith, has been holding talks with the guerrillas.

At the end of last month he managed to persuade the NLA to pull back from some villages around the town of Tetovo.

That was done in order to preserve the ceasefire - and ultimately, the peace talks - after a previous intervention by Mr Georgievski disrupted the negotiations and prompted the NLA to put more pressure on the Macedonian side by launching a fresh offensive.

Nationalist rhetoric

Mr Feith met President Boris Trajkovski - apparently to reassure him that the NLA's speedy demobilisation would go ahead in tandem with the initial implementation of the peace deal.

European mediator Javier Solana
Mediators have been criticised by some Macedonian politicians
Mr Trajkovski is more likely to accept these reassurances than Prime Minister Georgievski, who has recently returned to the nationalist rhetoric that launched his political career a decade ago.

Mr Georgievski is concerned that if he is seen as giving in too easily, his supporters might turn away from backing his party, the centre-right VMRO, at elections that are due within the next six months.

Meanwhile, on the ethnic Albanian side several politicians are equally worried that if they are perceived as being too ready to compromise, they might be outmanoeuvred by their more nationalist rivals - possibly even by a future political arm of the NLA which has yet to emerge.

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See also:

04 Jul 01 | Europe
Viewpoint: Macedonian identity
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