Macedonia grants amnesty to rebels
SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Macedonia has granted amnesty to disarmed ethnic Albanian rebels as part of the peace accord.
The move, announced on Tuesday, is designed to help pave the way for the re-integration of rebel-inhabited territory.
However, a second step needed to sustain the peace pact -- legislation to improve the civil rights of minority ethnic Albanians -- remains on hold.
The stumbling block is Skopje's demand for the release of 12 Macedonians it says the rebels have abducted.
The amnesty decision was announced in a Cabinet proclamation endorsing a statement of intent by President Boris Trajkovski.
"This statement obligates all state institutions to take measures to respect it (amnesty)," said Labour and Social Affairs Minister Bedredin Ibrahimi, an ethnic Albanian in the coalition Cabinet.
Deputy Prime Minister Xhevded Nusufi, another ethnic Albanian, said: "We as a government have accepted Trajkovski's statement. The amnesty represents political will and it deserves our support.
"The effect of the amnesty must be felt from today. From today ... (former) National Liberation Army members can feel free in their movement and we can start the process of returning people to their homes."
The Macedonian government is anxious to have security forces re-enter rebel-held areas as soon as possible to demonstrate to constituents that state sovereignty is being restored over territory overrun by the insurgents.
There was no immediate comment from majority Macedonian ministers after the Cabinet session, a reflection of the amnesty's unpopularity among Macedonians.
The general pardon would free former rebels from fear of arrest or persecution.
NLA insurgents handed weapons to NATO and disbanded last month.
But Parliament balked at passing amnesty legislation for fear of a popular backlash before elections in January, forcing the government to step in.
The Western-brokered peace settlement aims to defuse the fifth ethnic conflict in the region of old communist Yugoslavia since 1991 and improve prospects for democracy, stability and prosperity across the Balkans.
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