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Tuesday, 9 October, 2001, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
Macedonia grants rebels amnesty
Ethnic Albanian fighter
Rebel leaders told their fighters to return to civilian life
The Macedonian Government has granted an amnesty to ethnic-Albanian rebels who have laid down their arms.

The amnesty is part of a Western-backed peace deal aimed at ending a seven-month insurgency.

Nato soldier with guns
Nato's operation Essential Harvest collected almost 4,000 weapons
But in a setback for the fragile peace process, a key session of parliament due to debate the last phase of a constitutional reform bill was postponed on Tuesday after ethnic-Albanian parties refused to take part.

And, announcing government support for the amnesty, Deputy Prime Minister Xhevbed Nusufi, an ethnic Albanian in the coalition government, warned that the parliament would have to confirm the amnesty.

Many Macedonians, inside and outside parliament, are against the proposed constitional amendments which increase the rights of the ethnic Albanian minority.

Political wrangling

Rebels surrendered nearly 4,000 weapons to Nato troops in return for the promised constitutional reforms.

But political wrangling has delayed their passage through parliament.

Macedonians have been putting pressure on the government to make headway returning thousands of Macedonians displaced by the fighting to their villages.

Nato liaison officers in Matejce
Nato remains in Macedonia to protect ceasefire monitors
On Monday the European Union warned Macedonia that it risked having aid and bilateral relations frozen, unless it moved quickly to fully implement the peace deal.

Two ethnic-Albanian parties boycotted Tuesday's meeting of parliament after the government presented only six of 15 amendments they had been expecting.

A Western diplomat, speaking anonymously, told AP news agency that Macedonians were trying to keep key references to the Macedonian people and the Macedonian Orthodox Church in the constitution.

Hopes for compromise

The peace deal calls for phrasing that would put all ethnic groups on an equal footing.

There have been signs that the international community might allow slight changes to the peace plan to keep it on course and avoid a civil war.

On a recent visit to Macedonia, Doris Pack, the head of a European Parliament delegation, said that "if all other parts of the agreement are accepted, we are ready to encourage and support new discussion to find a compromise, taking into account the historical aspiration of the Macedonian people".

Nato withdrew most of its troops after collecting the rebels' weapons, though a smaller force remains to provide security civilian ceasefire monitors.

Rebel leaders said the conflict was over and told their supporters to return to civilian life.


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See also:

02 Oct 01 | Europe
Pardew in Macedonia for talks
27 Sep 01 | Europe
Macedonia rebels 'disband'
27 Sep 01 | Europe
UN backs new Macedonia mission
31 Aug 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Macedonia: Wobbling Balkans domino
01 Sep 01 | Europe
Macedonia's landscape of fear
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