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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 19:09 GMT 20:09 UK
Macedonia clears next hurdle to peace
Nato troops guard weapons
Nato says it is close to its target of 3,300 weapons
The Macedonian parliament has given initial approval to a raft of changes aimed at improving the rights of the minority ethnic Albanian population and averting another Balkan civil war.

Changes agreed
Drop the reference to "national state of the Macedonian people" in constitution's preamble
Allow use of Albanian language in state and legislative business
Give ethnic Albanians jobs in public service and the police in proportion to their one-third share of population

Deputies agreed to 15 constitutional amendments which will now undergo a 10 day process of public consultation.

They are part of a western-backed plan to stamp out a violent uprising against authorities.

It was begun by armed ethnic Albanians in February and has been in danger of flaring into a full-scale war ever since.

But the adoption of the new laws could be thrown into doubt if nationalists in the parliament push through proposals to hold a referendum on the amendments. This in turn could slow down the whole peace process.

Reluctance

Parliament voted by a simple majority on the changes, but it will need to raise two-thirds when they come to be ratified after the consultation period.

Macedonian parliament
Parliament may struggle to raise the two-thirds majority needed
Observers say Monday's close vote was an indication of deputies' lack of enthusiasm for the concessions to the Albanians' demands.

They include changes to the constitution¿s preamble to remove the reference to the "national state of the Macedonian people", increased recognition of the Albanian language and increased representation of ethnic Albanians in the police.

Meanwhile, rebel fighters have continued to hand in their weapons to the Nato force.

Nato commanders say they are close to having gathered the target of 3,300 weapons pledged by the guerrillas as part of the peace deal.

Who next?

The international troops are due to leave Macedonia when the force's 30-day mandate ends on Wednesday.

A follow-up force to protect civilian monitors on the ground is set to replace them but there is, as yet, no agreement on what the make-up of that force should be.

While the political process continues to inch forward, Monday saw a reminder of the fragility of the current peace.

An Albanian civilian was killed by Macedonian security forces after allegedly failing to stop at a checkpoint.

It was the first killing since the peace deal was signed in the middle of August.


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See also:

08 Sep 01 | Europe
Macedonia marks tense anniversary
01 Sep 01 | Europe
Macedonia's landscape of fear
31 Aug 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Macedonia: Wobbling Balkans domino
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