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Macedonian Truce in Crisis

Tensions simmer between ethnic rivals in the former Yugoslav republic, jeopardizing the "peace process".


Ethnic Albanian rebels retain some firepower, and the Macedonian majority remains bitter.

Macedonia faced a new crisis this weekend, after the parliament in the capital Skopje fell out over details of the fragile truce between ethnic Albanian factions and the majority-Macedonian government.

The new dispute, regarding local government reforms mandated as conditions of the truce, could cost the country up to $90 million in anticipated European and American aid.

Despite the current peace, troubles persist in Macedonia – the last former Yugoslav republic to break into armed conflict and the latest Balkan country to become a focal point of international diplomacy and NATO intervention.

A vote on the Law on Local Self-Government has been postponed until Monday, because ethnic Albanian Members of Parliament boycotted a vote Thursday, protesting a set of amendments tabled late in the debate.

Their walkout forced the parliament to miss a deadline for local government reforms set by foreign donor countries.

It also enflamed debate about the nature of the reforms.

Shape of the state

Ethnic Macedonian MPs expressed concern that devolving state power to the country's regions could lead to federalization or even Bosnia-style partition into ethnic provinces.

Such a fate would break Macedonia's multi-ethnic state and effectively hand victory to the guerrillas whose attacks pushed the country to the brink of civil war earlier this year.

But ethnic Albanian MPs said that by walking out they only protected the rights of their constituents, who have a minority voice in the country's democratic system.

EU diplomats have reportedly hinted they may be willing to wait a few days for a vote, but the delay has put the scheduling of the coming donor conference in doubt. The conference has been planned for December 20.

The parliament has already pushed through a load of complicated legislation in order to make the truce work, including a new constitution in November.

Skirmishes continue

But neither the political steps taken in Skopje nor the NATO-observed demilitarization of the rebels has totally stopped the armed conflict.

On Friday, four Macedonians came under fire from "Albanian terrorists" in the village of Ratae, the government's press service reported. They escaped injury.

Such attacks, including a bomb that exploded without causing casualties in the city of Tetevo on November 19, prove that some ethnic Albanians separatists have stashed weapons in defiance of demilitarization.

About 10 percent of the country, all in the northern region bordering Kosovo, remains under rebel control.

Despite the intermittent violence, European and US diplomats have said they are encouraged by the pace of reforms and optimistic that a final settlement can be achieved.

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