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Saturday, 1 September, 2001, 22:53 GMT 23:53 UK
Macedonia sets new peace conditions
British troops are held up by Macedonians blocking the road
Nato troops have not been well received
The speaker of parliament in Macedonia says new conditions must be met before parliament resumes a debate on a vital package of reforms to end the conflict with ethnic Albanian rebels.

Stojan Andov, a hardline nationalist, said all the people displaced by the fighting must be given guarantees that they can return home.

Macedonian Parliament Speaker Stojan Andov
Mr Andov said debate could not continue

But the European Union's envoy, Francois Leotard, said the peace agreement contained no written conditions and said that adding new terms would only delay peace.

The West is trying to restore peace between the Macedonians and ethnic Albanian rebels after six months of fighting.

The Macedonian parliament suspended its discussion of greater rights for ethnic Albanians on Saturday, after a convoy of buses carrying displaced Macedonians was stopped by villagers in rebel-held territory.

Legislators 'cannot continue'

Mr Andov said at a news conference that legislators "cannot continue while terrorists continue to harass and block [Macedonian] refugees trying to return to their homes".

Troops securing a collection point
Nato hopes to be out in 30 days

The ethnic Albanians have now lifted their blockade but the political impasse continues.

Mr Andov said he wanted written guarantees that all displaced people would be able to return to their homes within 15 to 20 days. Only then would he reconvene parliament he said.

The parliament is due to debate reforms which would improve the position of the ethnic Albanian minority in Macedonia.

In exchange, ethnic Albanian rebels are surrendering a number of arms agreed by Nato.

Many Macedonians are opposed to the agreement because they say it rewards violence by Albanians.

The BBC's correspondent in Skopje, Jacky Rowland, says Mr Andov may be looking for a justification to stall the process.

Nato gathering arms

It is not clear what impact a protracted delay in the parliamentary session would have on the wider peace process.

Before the latest delays deputies said they would not vote the changes into law until Nato confirmed that ethnic Albanian rebels, who have been fighting the Macedonian army, had handed over all the arms they have undertaken to surrender.

Nato officials have collected about 1,500 weapons from Albanian rebels in the last week and they say they are prepared to continue their mission.

Ethnic Albanian rebels
Rebel weapons include this captured tank

The Macedonian Government, however, says the rebels could possess as many as 60,000 weapons and some politicians claim the guerrillas have only handed over obsolete arms while hiding their more modern equipment in the mountains.

On Friday, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski urged deputies to implement the terms of the deal that brought six months of conflict to an end in August.

He said the agreement was not perfect "but it is the best thing we have right now".

The reforms include proposals to give greater rights to the ethnic Albanian minority, and they form part of an agreement to end fighting between government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels.

But the BBC correspondent in Skopje says the reforms are unpopular with many Macedonians.

The BBC's Frank Gardner
reports from Skopje
Filip Petrovski, Macedonian MP
"The political process is going very well"
Maki Shinohara, UNHCR Balkans spokesperson
"The safe return of all people displaced from their homes will be key"

Key stories



See also:

01 Sep 01 | Europe
Macedonia's landscape of fear
31 Aug 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Macedonia: Wobbling Balkans domino
31 Aug 01 | Media reports
Macedonian leader urges unity
30 Aug 01 | Europe
Nato collects first third of arms
22 Aug 01 | Europe
Is Nato's mission impossible?
27 Jul 01 | Europe
Macedonia's peace plan
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