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Macedonian Parties Sign Peace Accord

Political leaders representing the Balkan country’s Macedonian majority and its ethnic Albanian minority endorsed the agreement, which promises improved education for ethnic Albanians, as well as proportional representation in parliament, government administration, and police forces.

The accord eliminates the constitutional provision designating Macedonians the only “constitutional” people, makes Albanian the second official language in communities over 20 percent ethnic Albanian, and gives broader authority to local governments. A “double majority” system in parliament will require that half of the lawmakers voting on a measure must come from one or more minority groups in order for it to be enacted.

Signed in President Boris Trajkovski’s residence, the peace plan will also allow 3,500 NATO troops to disarm Albanian rebels once a sustainable cease-fire proves that the insurgents are willing to hand over their weapons. The British-led mission, called Operation Essential Harvest and considered potentially risky, would last 30 days. It would include troops from several other NATO countries, including the United States.

The Macedonian government ordered that a failed cease-fire be reinstated Sunday, but violence continued into the night. Just outside of Skopje, the capital, Macedonian troops pounded ethnic Albanian villages with mortars and tank fire after rebels reportedly fired on Macedonian police positions in the northern parts of the country. A rebel spokesman said that about 50 ethnic Albanian civilians had been killed over the last three days.

“This is the day when we can begin an end to this conflict and take all the political issues off the table,” said United States envoy James Pardew, who helped broker the accord. “After this day, there should be no reason for fighting.”

Ethnic Albanians, who make up about a third of Macedonia’s two million people, say they are fighting for constitutional reforms and greater political rights. Some Macedonians, however, have argued the rebels are linked to Kosovo’s militants and have a territorial agenda.

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