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New threats to peace deal as Macedonian deputies resume debate.


The Macedonian parliament resumed debate on political reforms crucial to a Western-brokered accord that ended a rebel insurgency, amid new threats from deputies to boycott the long-delayed session and stall the peace process.

Parliament speaker Stojan Andov threatened to block the final vote on a new constitution unless an ethnic Albanian party drops its opposition to a key amendment.

The deputies met for the second day of a stalled debate which is to conclude with a vote on a new constitution envisaged under a peace accord signed in August.

Under the accord, the rebel National Liberation Army (NLA) agreed to end a seven-month-old insurgency and handed in almost 4,000 weapons to NATO troops in exchange for the promised reforms, which would boost the rights of the large ethnic Albanian minority in the former Yugoslav republic.

But the 15 constitutional amendments have been stalled in parliament.

EU foreign policy chief Solana announced in Skopje last week that political leaders had decided to resume the debate on the reforms following an agreement on a revised wording to the constitution's preamble, the most controversial of the amendments.

At the start of Thursday's proceedings, legislators from the main Macedonian nationalist party, the VMRO-DPMNE, threatened to boycott the session because of recent incidents in former rebel-held zones.

The head of the party's parliamentary group, Cedomir Kraljevski, threatened to "send a message to the international community that it had failed to effectively carry out its mission" to supervise a return to normality in the former conflict zones in the north of the country.

Police have noted an increase of shooting incidents in recent days around the flashpoint northwestern town of Tetovo, which authorities have blamed on former rebels of the officially disbanded NLA.

For their part, ethnic Albanian parties, as well as Western envoys, have called for a clear commitment by the government to implement a promised amnesty for the rebels.

Despite the disputes, Andov said he hoped for "a vote on the amendments to the constitution by November 8," followed several days later by the declaration of a new constitution in the presence of European envoys, "so that they can show their commitment to support Macedonia economically."

But Andov, a hardline Macedonian nationalist, warned before Thursday's debate that he would "block the vote on all the amendments" if the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP) continued to oppose a revised version of the preamble to the constitution.

The new text has been accepted by the three other parties -- two Macedonian and one ethnic Albanian -- who signed the peace accord.

PDP Vice President Naser Ziberi said Andov's statement threatened to spark "a new crisis in Macedonia."

Under the accord, all references to ethnicity were to be erased from the preamble. But the text had to be rewritten to satisfy Macedonian nationalists in parliament, who insisted the preamble maintain the reference to the "Macedonian people".

The compromise version refers to ethnic Albanians and other minorities living in Macedonia as "peoples" and not as ethnic minorities, but lists them separately from the "Macedonian people".

The NLA launched its insurgency in February in a bid to secure improved rights for ethnic Albanians, who make up almost one third of the country's two million people.

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