Macedonia implements police plan
SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Macedonia's first ethnically mixed police units have been deployed into rebel strongholds in the former Yugoslav republic, government officials have announced.
The small groups of police have been sent into five villages seized by ethnic Albanian rebels during clashes with government troops earlier this year.
The move comes as part of the peace accord signed by the Macedonian government to halt six months of bitter clashes between ethnic Albanian rebels and Macedonian army troops.
The package, including wider use of the Albanian language, more jobs for ethnic Albanians in the police force and greater recognition of Islam, aims to improve life for ethnic Albanians, who make up about 30 percent of Macedonia's two million people.
A spokesman for Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski told The Associated Press news agency that the patrols would carry machine guns when entering particularly tense areas.
The initial proposal had called for police officers to carry handguns only, which Macedonian authorities argued would put them too much at risk.
NATO's ambassador to Macedonia Claus Vollers told AP the new plan "was made as flexible as possible," adding that the security situation in each village would be assessed on a daily basis.
"We are on the verge of important developments for this country," Vollers told the news agency.
Craig Genness, head of the Skopje mission of the Organisation for Stability and Co-operation in Europe, said if patrolling in the five villages was a success, the programme would expand to eventually include more than 80 villages.
Ethnic Albanian rebels have handed in more than 4,000 weapons to NATO troops in exchange for promises that the majority Macedonian parliament would pass reforms to improve ethnic Albanian rights.
The government is to begin discussing more amendments aimed at making the country's ethnic communities equal under the law later on this week.
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