U.S. envoy returns to Macedonia to invigorate peace process stalled by parliament
SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) – The top U.S. envoy to Macedonia tried Monday to advance the Balkan nation’s peace process, which has stalled over parliament’s refusal to approve reforms improving the rights of ethnic Albanians.
Under an August accord engineered by the United Sates and Europe, ethnic Albanian rebels agreed to stop fighting and handed in more than 4,000 weapons to NATO in exchange for constitutional amendments granting the large ethnic Albanian minority greater rights.
But the Macedonian side has failed to enact the amendments.
James Pardew, who helped mediate the peace accord, returned to the Macedonian capital, Skopje, to meet with ethnic Albanian politician Arben Xhaferi. Later, Pardew and NATO representatives met with Macedonian officials.
The promised changes would give Macedonians and ethnic Albanians equal rights, addressing complaints from ethnic Albanians who say they are treated as second-class citizens. About one-third of Macedonia’s 2 million people are ethnic Albanians.
Approval of the amendments has been held up by a dispute over wording about the country’s ethnic groups.
The Macedonians want the constitution to state that they are the dominant, constituent nation and that other groups are minorities. Besides ethnic Albanians, other minorities include Gypsies and ethnic Turks.
The peace accord states that Macedonia is a country of all its citizens, without naming the different groups. The ethnic Albanians oppose any changes to the accord.
Meanwhile, radical Macedonian lawmakers convened a parliament session Monday in the absence of Albanian deputies to push for a popular referendum on the accord, despite warnings from Western diplomats that the move could derail the peace process.
While the rebels have handed in thousands of weapons and declared themselves disbanded, there has been gunfire nearly every day in a contested northwestern region.
An army spokesman said Monday that there were about 20 bursts of automatic gunfire in the region overnight – fewer than usual. No one was injured.
Police reported that a rocket-propelled grenade was fired across a main western highway Monday, causing no damage.
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