Rebels Hold Fire Amid Macedonia Peace Talks

From Reuters

Ethnic Albanian rebels on Friday extended a ragged truce with Macedonian forces for 12 days as political leaders across the ethnic divide met to hammer out terms for preventing a new Balkan civil war.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana predicted that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would help collect weapons from the rebels if they agreed to disarm under the peace deal being worked out. The guerrillas have demanded full NATO military intervention.

The self-styled National Liberation Army said it was extending its unilateral truce until June 27 "to create conditions for dialogue" to end the four-month conflict.

Both sides have had shaky cease-fires in place since Monday, punctuated by daily exchanges of light fire that each blames on provocation by the other.

The rebels are waiting to see the outcome of all-party talks to flesh out the internationally backed peace plan, but diplomats warned that the exact role of NATO would need to be worked out before a detailed amnesty and disarmament plan could be sealed.

"It's unlikely [ethnic] Albanian parties will sign up without a deal on disarmament and therefore [on] the level of Western involvement," one senior Western diplomat said.

The rebels are seeking reforms to improve the lot of the ethnic Albanian minority, which accounts for at least a quarter of Macedonia's population of 2 million. Changes to ethnic Albanian status in the constitution, greater use of the Albanian language and more civil service and police jobs are the top priorities.

Leaders of the two Macedonian Slav and two ethnic Albanian parties in a fractious emergency coalition have locked themselves away for the weekend, under heavy Western pressure to deliver results.

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