Macedonian parliament set to debate constitutional reform

The Macedonian parliament is set to debate and
ratify a political settlement that would grant greater rights
to the country’s ethnic Albanian minority. The parliament meets
after the rebels met their first deadline for handing over
weapons. Macedonia’s President, Boris Trajkovski is also
expected to launch a campaign for political and public support
for the peace plan, starting with a televised speech to the
parliament.

The parliamentary session is not expected to go smoothly
because the reforms are unpopular with many Macedonians.
Macedonians are worried the proposals would leave
substantial parts of the country under the control of the
rebels. Hundreds of Macedonian nationalists have already
gathered outside the parliament building in protests
against the proposed constitutional reforms and NATO’s role
in the peace process.

Under the peace accord, the Macedonian
parliament would begin discussing constitutional reforms
once the rebels have handed over one third of weapons to
NATO troops. NATO announced Thursday (30 August) that it
had collected more than 1,400 weapons of the agreed figure
of 3,300. Yet, many in the Macedonian government believe
the rebels could have as many as 85,000 weapons and argue
that so far, the rebels have only handed over their
obsolete arms and equipment.

Macedonia’s 116 parliamentary members
will debate making Albanian an official language in some
areas of the country, increasing the number of ethnic
Albanians in the police force and granting greater autonomy
to local governments in ethnic Albanian areas.

The Macedonian government is not
expected to vote on any constitutional changes until they
have been assured by NATO that the ethnic Albanian rebels
have fulfilled their commitments to hand over 3,300
weapons.

 

A peace deal was signed on 13 August by the Macedonian
government and ethnic Albanian guerrillas with the aim of
ending the 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. Ethnic Albanian
guerrillas agreed on 14 August to hand over their arms to
NATO forces in return for the promise of amnesty from
Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski.

NATO's 3,500-strong force started
collecting weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels on Monday,
27 August. The mission is scheduled to last 30 days.

 

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