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New Hurdles Delay Macedonia Peace

July 30, 2001

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OHRID, Macedonia (AP) _ Negotiators reported early progress in Macedonian peace talks Monday, then new hurdles emerged in closed-door bargaining and delayed the conclusion of any agreement, ethnic Albanian sources said.

In another possible threat to the peace process, the Macedonian prosecutor’s office in Skopje ordered the detention of eleven members of the ethnic Albanian rebel army, including the rebels’ political leader, Ali Ahmeti. They were named as suspects in an attack last week on Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski’s convoy.

Ethnic Albanians account for about a third of the Balkan country’s 2 million people. The rebels say they are fighting for greater rights and recognition for their people; the government alleges they are linked to militants in neighboring Kosovo and are trying to carve out territory.

In the talks in the southwestern Macedonian lakeside city of Ohrid, the main point blocking an agreement remains the extent of using Albanian as an official language in public.

According to a draft peace proposal, Albanian would become an official language in areas where the ethnic minority accounts for 20 percent of the population or more.

Conference sources say, however, there is still disagreement over how such a rule would be implemented.

A Western diplomat said that negotiators ``are inching along″ toward an agreement, but the Albanian sources close to the talks said the Macedonian side was ``trying to fragmentize″ the language issue. They were proposing, for example, that Albanian could be used in closed but not in open sessions of parliament _ something the Albanian negotiators reject, the sources said.

Macedonian state television reported that the talks in Ohrid had ``gone into a dead-end street″ and that ethnic Albanian leaders had ``taken an offensive attitude″ toward the Macedonian representatives.

Negotiators, returning to their hotel at 9 p.m., would not comment.

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