Macedonia Parties to Begin Talks on Reforms

From Associated Press

The leaders of Macedonia's major Slavic and Albanian parties have agreed to talks on reforming the constitution in an effort to end a four-month rebel insurgency, President Boris Trajkovski said Wednesday.

Trajkovski made his announcement at a news conference attended by U.S. envoy James Pardew and his European Union counterpart, Francois Leotard, both of whom arrived in Skopje in the wake of riots that brought the Balkan country to the brink of civil war last week. The talks were scheduled to start later Wednesday and were expected to continue through the week.

The talks will focus on a new draft constitution that would expand the governmental role of ethnic Albanians, who make up at least a quarter of Macedonia's 2 million people, and grant greater rights for local communities.

Reforming the constitution is just one of several confidence-building measures that Trajkovski hopes will persuade the rebels to lay down their arms.

Trajkovski's peace plan would also give ethnic Albanians proportional representation in public institutions, allow the Albanian language to be used more broadly in public affairs and would provide the possibility of amnesty for rebels who have not committed any crimes.

The rebels say their struggle is meant to give their people equal status with majority Slavs in language, education and other rights.

After intense fighting west of Skopje, the capital, on Tuesday, only minor skirmishing near the northern city of Tetovo was reported Wednesday. State television said that rebels took over two more villages near Tetovo, but had no further details.

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