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Friday, 16 November, 2001, 13:29 GMT
Challenges ahead for Macedonia
Armoured personnel cars head for Tetovo
There were fatal clashes days before parliament voted
By BBC south-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

After weeks of delays, efforts to secure a lasting peace in Macedonia have taken an important step forward - but there are many potential problems and pitfalls ahead.

Overnight, the Macedonian parliament mustered an overwhelming majority for a package of 15 constitutional amendments extending the collective rights of the ethnic Albanian community.


Attention will now focus on the practical implementation of the measures designed to enhance ethnic Albanians' rights

But the figures - 94 in favour and only 14 against - are deceptive.

The parliamentary process has been subjected to a whole series of delays, partly stemming from the reluctance of Macedonian nationalists to go along with the Western-backed peace deal the government signed up to in August.

They have managed to renegotiate some provisions of the accords, notably the wording of the preamble to the constitution.

Ambivalence

The version finally accepted appears to give greater prominence to the majority Macedonians than to the ethnic Albanian community.


I think we should try to get rid of that feeling of defeat which exists partly among Albanians, and I suppose among Macedonians as well

Ethnic Albanian deputy Mevlan Tahiri
Indeed, that was another source of delay because until just a few days before the final parliamentary session, one of the two main ethnic Albanian groups, the Party of Democratic Prosperity (PDP), held out against approving this amendment.

In the end, after sustained pressure from the United States and the European Union, the four key parties - two from each side of the ethnic divide - adopted the 15 constitutional amendments.

But the continuing ambivalence over the deal that's widely felt in both camps was reflected in the words of an ethnic Albanian deputy, Mevlan Tahiri.

"I think we should try to get rid of that feeling of defeat which exists partly among Albanians, and I suppose among Macedonians as well, and to try to understand this as inevitable so we can exit the dead end in which we found ourselves," he said.

With the constitution amended, attention will now focus on the practical implementation of the measures that are designed to enhance the ethnic Albanians' rights.

Albanian language

These include the more extensive use of the Albanian language - both in local administration and the national parliament.

President Trajkovski
President Trajkovski takes satisfaction in the progress of the vote
There are provisions for widening the scope of Albanian-language education, including state funding at university level.

And ethnic Albanian participation in public services - crucially, in the police - will be increased to match their proportion in the total population.

It's generally expected that the implementation of these and other measures will take a long time.

For one thing, there's no consensus over the number of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia - 23% according to official figures, around one-third according to the Albanians.

A census, due in May this year, was postponed because of the precarious security situation at the time.

Elections loom

It was rescheduled for November but little has been said about it recently and it will several months to prepare. Even once it has been held, the results may well become the source of further disputes.

In the meantime, early elections have been set for the end of January - whether they will now go ahead or not is a key question.

They can certainly be postponed because the current parliament's term does not run out until November next year.

But whatever the decision about polling day, all the major parties are already positioning themselves for the elections.

On the Macedonian side, one party - VMRO - has been accusing the international community of forcing the peace deal on the country, while another - the Social Democrats - are making the most of their reliability as partners for the EU and the US.

A similar split is evident on the Albanian side, with the PDP campaigning vigorously for a formal amnesty law for ethnic Albanian guerrillas, and the DPA hoping to recover pouplar backing by ensuring that the deal now reached is put into practice.


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See also:

12 Nov 01 | Europe
Macedonia hawk demands crackdown
12 Nov 01 | Europe
Macedonia police killed in ambush
05 Nov 01 | Europe
Macedonia debate nears vote
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