Macedonia’s parliament takes another step towards peace

The Macedonian parliament has given initial
approval to constitutional changes that would improve the
position of the Albanian minority. The reforms, which are part
of the EU and NATO-backed peace plan, will be first subjected
to a ten-day public consultation and then passed to the
parliament for final approval.

NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson is visiting
Macedonia Tuesday amidst concerns that Macedonian
nationalist could derail the peace process by holding a
referendum on the constitutional amendments. An EU
delegation will visit Macedonia later in the week.

15 constitutional amendments were
agreed, including:

  • Dropping the description of Macedonia as a “national
    state of the Macedonian people” in the constitution’s
    preamble.
  • Making Albanian the official language in state and
    legislative affairs.
  • Giving ethnic Albanians a bigger proportion of jobs
    in public service and the police.
  • Legislation concerning culture, language and
    education will be passed with the support of at least
    half the Albanian minority members of parliament.

NATO commanders said that they were
close to the target of collection 3,300 weapons from the
ethnic Albanian guerrillas. The NATO forces, due to leave
Macedonia on Wednesday, will be replaced by a reduced
follow-up protection mission. The new NATO mission would
protect international observers, overseeing the
implementation of the peace plan and the return of tens of
thousands of refugees to their villages that were
previously occupied by the guerrillas.

NATO decided on Monday, 24 September,
that Germany will lead its new force to guard international
monitors in Macedonia. The creation of a force of 600-1,000
men will be endorsed by the NATO defence ministers on
Wednesday, 26 September.

 

According to a Sunday Times interview with US Ambassador to
Britain, Mr William Farish, the US administration is
planning to "strengthen its military presence in the
Balkans, which it now sees as a potential buffer against
terror threats from the east". Mr Farish said that US
policy advisers "are evaluating how best to safeguard
American and European interests in the region, including
planned pipelines to the vast oil and gas reserves of
central Asia".

The radical change of the US Balkan
policy was caused by the 11 September terrorist attacks
against the US. "What the final deployment is, is something
that is under discussion - as it falls into play with the
whole terrorist plan," said Mr Farish. He added that NATO
could strengthen its presence in the region, turning the
Balkans into a prominent theatre of operations and
training. Mr Farish sees the Balkans as a possible "buffer
zone in future against unstable regimes to the east", which
reflects US fears of a rise in Islamic fundamentalism in
Turkey.

 

The peace agreement was signed on 13 August by the
Macedonian government and ethnic Albanian guerrillas with
the aim of ending a seven-month conflict that started in
February. The deal gives official recognition to the
Albanian language and outlines plans for the police to
reflect more accurately the ethnic balance in the country.

NATO's 4,500-strong force started
collecting weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels on Monday,
27 August. The mission, named "Essential Harvest", is
scheduled to last until this Wednesday, 26 September.

 

The ratification of constitutional changes requires a
two-third majority in the parliament, which will be hard to
obtain. The preliminary approval on Monday only required a
simple majority, yet the vote was very close.

 

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