Macedonian talks suffer setback

OHRID, Macedonia, AFP

Peace talks in Macedonia suffered a serious setback on Monday, US envoy James Pardew told AFP after negotiations were put on hold following new demands by the Macedonian side.

“This is a serious setback,” Pardew said.

The talks broke up when the Macedonian side put forward new demands, a Western diplomat said earlier.

“The Macedonians submitted new demands. This is the deal-breaker,” a diplomat said.

He added that the demands “were a step backwards, but not a breakdown” in the talks which had earlier appeared close to an overall accord.

Western officials questioned by AFP stressed that the “setback did not amount to a breakdown in talks and that talks had not been suspended.”

The new Macedonian demand was largely in line with comments last week by Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski that the implementation of a peace accord should follow withdrawal by ethnic Albanian guerrillas from their positions.

A Western source said the Macedonians have demanded “guarantees” that the peace plan would be implemented along with the disarmament of the ethnic Albanian guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (NLA), operating in the country for more than six months.

A source close to the Macedonian presidency said a “pause” of the talks was also called because of the meeting of the country’s national security council, set for 5:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) by President Boris Trajkovski.

The talks would resume after the meeting of the council was over, the source said.

The peace accord would pave the way for a global solution to the crisis in this former Yugoslav republic, ending a six-month conflict between government forces and NLA rebels in the country.

NATO officials said Monday that the alliance would be ready to send some 3,500 soldiers to Macedonia to oversee the disarmament of the rebels if a final peace accord was reached and if the fighters agreed to lay down their weapons.

Code-named “Essential Harvest”, the NATO mission would begin deploying less than 48 hours after a peace agreement was reached, said Major Barry Johnson.