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Two Macedonian policemen patrol in Tetovo northwest of the capital Skopje, July 9, 2001. Intense haggling over political reforms to end an ethnic Albanian guerrilla revolt in Macedonia resumed as U.S. and European envoys sought to muster support for their new peace proposal. (Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters)
Rebels Kidnap Macedonian Army Reservists.
dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH
Rebels Take Two Soldiers Hostage, Ceasefire Increasingly Fragile.
SKOPJE/PRISTINA, Jul 9, 2001 -- (dpa) Ethnic Albanian guerillas of the National Liberation Army (UCK) said Monday that they captured two Macedonian Army reservists hostage last Saturday in the village of Slupcane, near Kumanovo.
In a statement released in Pristina, the UCK said that it had captured Ljubisa Milanovski, 30, and Ceslav Spasovski, 38, when they entered Slupcane, a guerrilla stronghold.
The rebels described the arrival of the two troops as a "provocation".
The UCK and the Macedonian government agreed a ceasefire since midnight last Thursday.
Though the ceasefire mostly held, it appears to to have grown increasingly fragile, with Skopje officials accusing the UCK of sniper attacks in the area of Tetovo.
Officials also said the guerrillas were entrenching, regrouping and organizing a para-police.
Meanwhile, local media reported Sunday evening that the ethnic Albanian politicians rejected constitutional changes proposed by international envoys as "insufficient to stop the civil, war".
The draft document prepared by experts and submitted by Francois Leotard of the European Union and James Pardew of the United States among else proposed wider rights for the Albanian minority in local government, the use of language.
Haggling Over U.S.-EU Macedonia Peace Plan Begins.
By Kole Casule
SKOPJE (Reuters) - Intense haggling over political reforms to end an ethnic Albanian guerrilla revolt in Macedonia resumed on Monday as U.S. and European envoys sought to muster support for their new peace proposal.
Leaders of Macedonia's Albanian minority have dismissed it as inadequate, clouding Western optimism that the plan delivered to politicians across the tiny Balkan republic's ethnic divide would form the basis of a political effort to avert civil war.
"I didn't start the war, I want to stop the war," Macedonia's foremost Albanian politician, Arben Xhaferi, told Reuters in an interview. "This offering cannot stop the war."
In Brussels, NATO Secretary General George Robertson put a brave face on the task ahead for envoys seeking a quick deal.
"We are not disappointed," he said of the Albanian parties' stance. "This is the beginning of a serious negotiation."
The joint U.S.-EU proposals, obtained by Reuters, would devolve some power and make Albanian an official language, but Albanian parties say it fails to guarantee minority rights.
U.S. special envoy James Pardew said the first session of talks had at least agreed not to tear the draft up completely.
"It was a very good first meeting and we will all engage on the specifics of the proposal later today with all the parties individually," he told reporters in Skopje. "All parties are committed to work productively with the document."
BEST DEAL ON OFFER
Xhaferi, leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), said he wanted the West to send in NATO troops to keep the peace and back radical demands for constitutional change -- terms which the Macedonian majority blames for crippling the talks.
Diplomats, who brokered a truce last week to ease pressure on the talks, hope for quick progress toward a deal under which NATO troops would go in -- though only for a limited period and only to collect weapons from rebels who agree to disarm.
But Albanian politicians said a swift solution was unlikely.
"I'm not very confident that a serious agreement can be reached this week," the Party for Democratic Prosperity leader Imer Imeri told Reuters in a separate interview. "There is no substantial difference from what was on the table before."
Western diplomats, who say a new Balkan peacekeeping force is not on the agenda, warn that the proposals, which leave room for further debate, are the best deal the Albanians can expect.
"What's on the table is what the international community is prepared to give and what the Macedonians are prepared to stomach," one diplomat said. "The Albanians won't get any more."
As well as strengthening local government and giving the Albanian language official status, the plan contains mechanisms to ensure laws on ethnic issues can only be passed with minority backing -- measures largely acceptable to the Slavic majority.
"The only problematic point at this minute for us is the free use of the Albanian language in parliament," Social Democratic party vice president Radmila Shekerinska said.
But Xhaferi said he would not drop demands for an effective veto on any law deemed not to be in the interests of Albanians and said the plan left too many issues open to interpretation.
Encouraged by a cease-fire which is broadly holding but unlikely to last unless the talks yield quick results, refugees are returning in their thousands, the United Nations said.
Almost 9,000 people have returned from neighboring Kosovo in recent days, but more than 100,000 remain displaced in the region, UNHCR spokeswoman Astrid van Genderen Stort said.
However, daily exchanges of sporadic fire continue and the National Liberation Army (NLA) rebels said one of their soldiers was killed overnight in a skirmish near the mainly Albanian town of Tetovo, the scene of fierce battles for territory last week.
On a nearby road leading to the mountainous Kosovo border, camouflaged NLA guerrillas in black berets emblazoned with the Albanian acronym UCK in red relaxed with Kalashnikov rifles.
Albanian leaders concede these men are setting the agenda.
"If there was no NLA no one would seriously get involved in dialogue with Albanians," PDP leader Imeri said.
But Western diplomats warned the Albanians' hardline stance appeared self-defeating unless it was just a negotiating tactic.
"They're going to have to ask themselves do they really want to return to a state of war with more refugees, more tragedy and they still don't have their issues resolved, so it would be tragic if they don't seize this opportunity," one diplomat said.