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EU's Solana seeks to spur Macedonians peace talks
( 2001-08-05 10:32 ) (7 )

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana pays a lightning visit to Macedonia on Sunday to spur political leaders to agree on a plan to end a five-month-old ethnic Albanian rebellion.

Solana, who has spearheaded Western efforts to head off a new Balkan war in the former Yugoslav republic, will meet leaders of the two main Macedonian Slav and two ethnic Albanian political parties in a lakeside mansion in southwest Macedonia.

It was unclear whether Solana would merely be coaxing the fractious politicians, who have been locked in talks in Ohrid for a week, or might be able to celebrate a breakthrough over Albanian demands for a bigger role in the police force.

"This is a signal of support for the talks," Solana's spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said of the visit lasting a few hours from midday (1000 GMT). She declined to say whether a deal on police reforms seemed imminent.

"The message is that the EU would like to have a final deal as soon as possible. Giving specific time lines might not be the most appropriate thing at the moment," she said.

Even if an agreement on policing is reached, other constitutional issues remain to be settled in a long haul to end a conflict fuelled by demands for more rights for ethnic Albanians who make up about a third of the two million population.

"The signing of the final document is still far away," the state news agency MIA said.

Max van der Stoel, an envoy from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at the talks, said he hoped disputes over policing could be resolved on Sunday.

But one Western source at the talks, also brokered by EU envoy Francois Leotard and American James Pardew, said the two sides were still far apart on police reforms.


Ethnic Albanians make up only about six percent of the police. They want more jobs, saying they are grossly under-represented and that ethnic Albanians often feel intimidated by Macedonian police.

A tenuous truce has been in place since July 26, but both sides have accused the other of repeated violations.

The guerrillas, who control a swathe of territory in northern Macedonia, are not at the talks. But the demands of the ethnic Albanian parties mirror many of their own.

The political leaders made progress on Wednesday by solving the toughest issue at the talks, agreeing details of how to make Albanian an official language in regions where 20 percent of the population is Albanian.

For policing, the Macedonians want the makeup of police forces around the country to reflect the total population - meaning ethnic Slavs will have a majority in every local police station.

Ethnic Albanians want police forces determined by local populations - handing them control in some regions.

A Macedonian source said that, if an agreement was reached in Ohrid, the next step would be an amnesty which could prompt the start of rebel disarmament and encourage Macedonian parliamentarians to approve the deal.

NATO has agreed to send 3,000 troops to help collect weapons for a month but wants to avoid a long-term mission.



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