Western Plan Urges Greater Albanian Role


Macedonian political reforms suggested in a Western-drafted peace plan would guarantee ethnic Albanians proportional representation in several of the Balkan country's most important institutions, including the police, army, Constitutional Court and local government, state-run television reported Saturday.

The plan also calls for the powers of local government to be strengthened, giving ethnic Albanians more self-rule in areas where they form large majorities, the report said.

A proposed framework for political reforms was first given to Macedonian Slav and ethnic Albanian politicians by American and European Union envoys last weekend as a starting point for negotiations. It has undergone at least one rewrite on the basis of those talks.

Copies of the plan have not been officially released and some of its details remain unclear. The negotiations are aimed at establishing a political foundation for ending an ethnic Albanian insurgency that erupted in February in the mountains of Macedonia's northwestern border with the Yugoslav province of Kosovo.

A shaky truce brokered by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been in force between the rebels and Macedonian security forces since July 6.

The peace framework also calls for mechanisms to ensure that legislation on sensitive ethnic issues would need minority backing to be passed by parliament.

Ethnic Albanian parties hold 25 of the 120 seats in parliament. Ethnic Albanian leaders say they need a way to avoid being constantly outvoted by the Slav majority.

Other reforms envisioned in the plan include a change to the constitution to eliminate language defining "Macedonians"--meaning Macedonian Slavs--as the country's "constituent" people, state television said. Many ethnic Albanians feel that this language categorizes them as second-class citizens.

The proposal also provides for a census later this year. Some of the privileges the plan would grant to ethnic Albanians are defined as going to any minority that accounts for more than 20% of the population, the television report said. Ethnic Albanians make up at least 25% of Macedonia's population of 2 million, and most estimates place them at roughly one-third. No other minority would come close to the 20% level.

Rules for a census will be controversial because arguments are expected over who should qualify to be counted. Some Macedonian Slavs say many ethnic Albanians who are not Macedonian citizens are living in the country, and ethnic Albanians may want the census to include people who are temporarily working outside Macedonia.

The framework also calls for early parliamentary elections followed by an international conference to raise tens of millions of dollars in economic support for Macedonia, the TV report said.

The draft calls for an Albanian-language university that is now dependent on private funding to begin receiving state money. Albanian-language education through high school is already state-funded.

If ethnic Albanian and Macedonian Slav political leaders can agree on constitutional reforms and other issues, guerrilla leaders--who are not at the negotiating table--will be asked to agree to disarm. NATO has approved plans to deploy 3,000 soldiers to collect rebel weapons over a 30-day period if such an agreement is reached.

Last week, a NATO official in Brussels told reporters that both sides appeared to be using the cease-fire to build up supplies for renewed, and presumably fiercer, battle if the talks fail.

"We've seen pretty important movements of materiel and troops on both sides," the official told reporters at a briefing.

The official said NATO-led peacekeeping forces in Kosovo are trying the best they can to cut off guerrilla supply routes from the heavily ethnic Albanian province. But a complete sealing of the border has not proved possible in the remote mountainous terrain.

The lowest Western estimates place the number of guerrillas at about 1,200, while the Macedonian army puts their number at 4,000 to 6,000.

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