Macedonian parties resume talks

SKOPJE, Macedonia, AP

International envoys reported progress Monday in efforts to get feuding political parties to agree on a new peace plan meant to end an ethnic Albanian insurgency that threatens spark a civil war.

After the first round of joint meetings, European Union envoy Francois Leotard and his American counterpart, James Pardew — both attending talks hosted by President Boris Trajkovski — said the negotiations to end the four-month rebel insurgency were making good headway.

“All parties are committed to working productively with the document, so we are very pleased with the first meeting,” Pardew told reporters during a break. Leotard characterized the point-by-point discussions of the draft proposal as “very positive.”

The Western-backed plan is an attempt to reconcile the country’s majority Macedonians, mostly Slavs by origin, and its minority ethnic Albanians, who bitterly complain of treatment as second-class citizens.

Pardew has called the peace plan a “comprehensive framework,” broadly based on a proposal by French constitutional expert Robert Badinter with input from local and international experts.

The two envoys and a dozen experts from Western Europe planned later Monday to work in groups with each of the four coalition government parties. The negotiations were continuing without a deadline.

On the eve of Monday’s talks, ethnic Albanian politicians — while not outright rejecting the draft — had said the plan was flawed.

“We have serious objections to the proposed document,” said Zehir Bekteshi, a spokesman for the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity. “But this is only a draft version. It is not something final that could be immediately accepted or rejected.”

Meanwhile, military sources confirmed that ethnic Albanian rebels abducted two Macedonian army reservists Saturday after the pair strayed from their posts into rebel-held territory near the northern village of Slupcane. Rebel spokesman Dren Korabi said the two “deserted their unit,” and would be released in a “matter of days.”

Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski expressed concern over reports from another area, the western Tetovo region, where ethnic Albanian militants allegedly were gaining ground and erecting barricades Monday around villages under their control.

A high ranking rebel commander operating near Tetovo, Macedonia’s second largest city, told The Associated Press on Monday that Macedonian troops killed a rebel fighter Sunday in clashes there.

The commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the army sent about 30 paramilitary troops dressed in civilian clothing to attack rebel positions near Tetovo. The claim could not immediately be independently confirmed.