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Friday, 16 November, 2001, 18:52 GMT
Macedonia adopts new constitution
Boris Trajkovski with deputies
Boris Trajkovski is congratulated on the vote
Macedonia's parliament has adopted a new constitution, enshrining 15 amendments designed to give greater rights to the country's ethnic Albanians.

The vote to ratify the new constitution came after the amendments were approved one-by-one by a large majority (Ninety-four deputies voted in favour, with 14 against).


We repaired the constitution and now we have to repair the mentality that created ethnic conflicts

Arben Xhaferi
Democratic Party of Albanians
The move ends weeks of political deadlock, which threatened the Western-backed peace accord aimed at bringing to an end the conflict between ethnic Albanian guerrillas and the Macedonian authorities.

The move was hailed as a "historic decision" and a "choice for peace and reconciliation" by Nato secretary-general George Robertson and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who were involved in negotiating the accord.

Arben Xhaferi, leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians, welcomed the constitutional changes.

"We repaired the constitution and now we have to repair the mentality that created ethnic conflicts," he said.

Language and representation

The chief provisions of the new constitution include the recognition of Albanian as an official language and increased access for ethnic Albanians to public-sector jobs, including the police.

In addition, references in the constitution's preamble suggesting that minorities are second-class citizens have been removed.

The new constitution is part of the peace accord signed at Ohrid in August which ended seven months of violence between the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (NLA) and Macedonian Government forces.

Under the terms of that accord, NLA fighters handed in some 4,000 weapons to Nato and disbanded, and an amnesty was declared in October.

War crimes

President Boris Trajkovski confirmed on Friday that the amnesty would be granted to those who had voluntarily disarmed.

Ethnic Albanian MPs in Skopje
Ethnic Albanian MPs have sought equal status
The relevant authorities would be told not to arrest anyone covered by immunity nor to start or continue any investigations against them, Mr Trajkovski said in a letter to Mr Robertson, Mr Solana and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

People suspected of committing war crimes would be dealt with by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, he said.

The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, will visit Macedonia on Tuesday to discuss war crimes allegations.

The government wants an inquiry into an alleged mass grave of Macedonian prisoners. Ethnic Albanians want an investigation into alleged civilian executions by Macedonian security forces in the village of Ljuboten.

Delays

The vote on the new constitution had been stalled for several weeks after prolonged debates and fresh tension between the two communities.

The session was finally held late at night at the parliament in Skopje to avoid demonstrations by Macedonian nationalists who had disrupted earlier attempts to change the 1991 constitution.

As recently as Sunday, hardline Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski sent special forces into rebel Albanian territory after a series of clashes and kidnappings.

Three Macedonian policemen were killed in an ambush blamed on ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Anderson
"On the ground the situation is still precarious"

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16 Nov 01 | Europe
12 Nov 01 | Europe
12 Nov 01 | Europe
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