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Macedonia Signs Truce with Rebels

The agreement, brokered by NATO and the European Union, also calls for deployment of NATO troops to disarm the rebels. The four-month ethnic Albanian insurgency has nearly brought the Balkan country to civil war, despite earlier attempts at peace in June.

President Boris Trajkovski’s national security adviser, Nikola Dimitrov, called the cease-fire “a major step forward.”

“It is not the end of the crisis, but it will create the conditions for political dialogue,” he said.

Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski said 3,000 NATO troops from 15 nations could arrive by mid-July. Disarmament would come two weeks later. NATO spokesman Paul Barnard said when it appears “the cease-fire will last and we see progress in political dialogue, we will be ready to commit troops.”

British forces would lead the operation and work with Greek, Italian and French troops. Barnard said a U.S. team would handle logistics, but did not give details or say if that role could be expanded. NATO officials expect the operation to last four to six weeks.

NATO forces have not been deployed before assist in the Macedonian conflict, but troops involved with peacekeeping in neighboring Kosovo are stationed in the country.

Last week, fearing a full-blown civil war, NATO troops evacuated ethnic Albanian rebels to beyond Macedonian government lines.

The move spurred rioting in the capital of Skopje among Macedonian Slavs — the majority ethnic group — who saw it as interfering with the army’s work.

The ethnic Albanians’ National Liberation Army launched the revolt in February, saying they wanted constitutional reforms and greater political rights.

Ethnic Albanians make up about one-third of Macedonia’s two million people. They are represented in the coalition government, but control only 25 seats in the 120-member national legislature.

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