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Albanians Boycott Peace Meeting

October 9, 2001

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) _ Ethnic Albanian lawmakers boycotted a key parliament meeting Tuesday, accusing majority Macedonians of trying to alter provisions of the Balkan nation’s fragile peace accord.

The latest setback in Macedonia’s delicate peace process came as Macedonian legislators reluctantly offered a blueprint for six of 15 planned constitutional amendments.

In keeping with a Western-backed peace plan signed in August, the amendments are to give Macedonia’s large and restive ethnic Albanian minority more rights and political influence.

But ethnic Albanian lawmakers accused Macedonians of foot-dragging on the constitutional changes and trying to water down the provisions designed to improve the status of the minority.

``The six offered amendments represent for us a game whose tendency is to fail to implement the peace agreement as a whole,″ Demush Bajrami, a lawmaker with the Democratic Party of Albanians, told The Associated Press. His party boycotted a planned meeting Tuesday to discuss the reforms.

A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Macedonians were trying to keep references to the Macedonian Orthodox Church and the Macedonian people in the constitution. The peace accord envisages more neutral phrasing that would put all ethnic groups on an equal footing.

A spokesman for the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity, Zehir Bekteshi, insisted that amendments be discussed and voted on together, saying ``any intervention into the text of the amendments would make the peace agreement worthless.″

Ethnic Albanian rebels took up arms in February, saying they were fighting for broader rights for their community, which accounts for nearly a third of Macedonia’s 2 million people. Most majority Macedonians regard the militants as separatists bent on dividing the country.

The rebels have handed in thousands of weapons in exchange for the constitutional reforms promised under the peace deal signed by Macedonian and ethnic Albanian leaders, and there are fears the violence could flare anew if the changes are not approved soon.

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