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European Union peace envoy Francois Leotard (L) and U.S. special envoy James Pardew (R) speak to journalists in front of the Parliament building in Skopje, July 7, 2001, after their meeting with Macedonian officials. Intense haggling over political reforms to end an ethnic Albanian guerrilla revolt in Macedonia resumed on July 9, 2001, as U.S. and European envoys sought to muster support for their new peace proposal. (Dimitar Dilkoff/Reuters)

Albanians call for international peace conference.

virtual New York

Saturday, 7 July 2001 19:26 (ET)

Albanians call for international peace conference.

SKOPJE, Macedonia, July 8 (UPI) -- Macedonia's main political parties were studying a proposed framework document to settle the ethnic conflict that has brought the country to the brink of civil war. Meanwhile, a media report Sunday said ethnic Albanian political parties are urging an international peace conference.

The document for constitutional and legislative changes was developed with the help of envoys from the United States and the European Union, and was presented Saturday.

The leaders of the two major Slav parties (VMRO-DPMNE of Prime Minister Lyubcho Georgievski and the ex-communist Social Democratic Union of Branko Cervenkovski) and of the two leading ethnic Albanian parties (Arben Xhaferi's Democratic Party of Albanians and Imer Imeri's Party for
Democratic Progress) have until Monday to study the document, described as a "comprehensive framework" by U.S. envoy James Pardew.

The EU envoy, Francois Leotard, stressed that the document is only the beginning of efforts to negotiate a settlement to the conflict, according to CNN.

It is expected that marathon talks will be initiated Monday under the watchful eye of the West.

The call for the international conference was reported by Zeri Popullit, a daily paper close to the Albanian government. Ethnic Albanian political parties are suggesting a three-day conference on peace in Macedonia, held outside of Macedonia, under the auspices of the United States and the European Union.

The negotiations on the framework document were facilitated by a NATO-brokered cease-fire, which went into effect Thursday midnight, between Macedonia's government and ethnic Albanian rebels. Known as the National Liberation Army, the guerrillas have been battling Macedonian security
forces for four months in what they say is a justified armed struggle for greater rights for their kinsmen.

The government of Prime Minister Ljubcho Georgievski has so far refused to hold direct negotiations with the rebels, branding them "terrorists," but under intense Western pressure, it finally agreed to initiate negotiations with the parliamentary ethnic Albanian parties to address longstanding grievances of the Albanian minority. The ethnic Albanians account for about one-third of Macedonia's 2 million people.

The demands of these Albanian political parties coincide in large measure with the demands of the rebels.

Western diplomats are worried that the fragility of the cease-fire, flawed by sporadic clashes, could endanger the political negotiations. An Army spokesman, Col. Blagoje Markovsky, said Saturday that rebels had been setting up checkpoints close to several villages near Macedonia's two main Albanian towns, Tetovo and Gostivar. He said these activities were a violation of the cease-fire and that unless Western representatives persuaded the rebels to desist, the army would have no choice but to intervene.

NATO's regional representative Peter Feith warned that swift progress in political talks was essential if the cease-fire was to hold.

There has been no official announcement on the content of the framework document on which the talks will be based, but informed sources close to the Macedonian president told United Press International that it provides for much greater local government, greater opportunities to use Albanian as a second language, including its use in government departments in municipalities where Albanians are a majority or their numbers are significant.

The document also allows the possibility of using Albanian in parliament, but without it becoming a second official language.

The sources said the document proposes a mechanism by which any legislation that affects major interests of the Albanians cannot win passage unless it is backed by the ethnic Albanian parties -- even if the measure is
supported by a majority in parliament. The Albanian parties hold 25 seats in the 120-seat body.

Such legislation would require a two-thirds majority vote and, additionally, more than half of the parliamentarians from the ethnic Albanian parties must approve.

This is expected to be a major stumbling block in the negotiations.

Influential figures from Slav parties told UPI that they consider this to be a way to introduce consensual democracy to Macedonia, which would in turn promote a binational social model.

Some worry that a binational model would foster separatist tendencies, which, many Macedonians think, would gradually lead to the partition of the country and the establishment of a greater Kosovo or Albania.

Western diplomats have warned that despite these worries a compromise is the only way out for Macedonia if it is to avoid further bloodshed and even a civil war that would imperil its territorial integrity.

Macedonia is a former republic of the Yugoslav Federation that became independent in 1991. The escalation of violence in Macedonia has alarmed the West and added to fears that the country could be dangerously close to a civil war that could spread to Kosovo and southern Serbia.

(With reporting by Lulzim Cota in Tirana, Albania)

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