Macedonia plan enters final stage
SKOPJE, Macedonia -- NATO will start collecting the last weapons being surrendered by ethnic Albanian rebels on Thursday, reflecting rebel readiness to fulfill their part of a peace deal, an alliance spokesman says.
U.S. Maj. Barry Johnson suggested on Wednesday that the last stage of NATO's Essential Harvest mission would begin even before parliament fulfills its part of the bargain -- agreeing on the text of draft amendments to the constitution giving the country's ethnic Albanians more rights.
"They're prepared to turn in weapons, with the full expectation that parliament will do its part," Johnson told The Associated Press. He said collection sites to gather the last of 3,300 weapons being surrendered by the rebels would be set up in two days.
The Western-brokered peace deal, adopted last month, involves ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army handing over their weapons to NATO in three separate phases, followed by parliament action to amend the constitution to grant ethnic Albanians more rights.
The alliance has completed the second phase of its operation, collecting more than two-thirds of the rebel arsenal. Under the peace deal agreed to last month, parliament had to finish discussion of the constitutional amendments before the alliance completed the arms collection, scheduled to end on September 26.
But that discussion has been delayed by related -- and potentially disruptive -- issues. Parliament on Tuesday discussed a call to put the issue of greater ethnic Albanian rights to a referendum, but then decided to postpone further debate on the issue until Thursday. It planned to convene on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the constitutional amendments, as called for by the peace plan.
If the referendum proposal submitted by the small New Democracy party is adopted, it could disrupt peace efforts. Observers say sentiment is strong among majority Macedonians against giving the ethnic Albanian minority greater rights.
Analysts say the rebels' readiness to start handing in the last of the weapons they are willing to surrender, even before parliament completed its second-stage business, has lessened tensions somewhat.
Mark Laity, another NATO spokesman, told AP a Macedonian government request for a small NATO force past the present arms-collecting mission was being discussed at alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
The force would be small, and aimed at providing security for civilian monitors, he said.
Macedonia referendum debated
NATO stresses Macedonia commitment
NATO puts pressure on Macedonia
EU considers Macedonia future
NATO Official Site
National Liberation Army
Operation Essential Harvest
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
WORLD TOP STORIES:
|Back to the top|