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West bids to avert Macedonia war

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Many ethnic Albanians have fled Macedonia  


SKOPJE, Macedonia (CNN) -- Western diplomats desperately seeking to avert a civil war in Macedonia have sent the European Union's special envoy to the region.

Diplomats said Macedonia's Slav and ethnic Albanian politicians had agreed to resume deadlocked talks to try to end four months of bloodletting, and that ethnic Albanian rebels had agreed to a limited cease-fire.

The EU's top negotiator, Javier Solana, travelled to the region try to break the deadlock and restart talks on Thursday.

"Without honest political dialogue it will be difficult to overcome the present situation. Therefore our aim is to ... help the development of that political dialogue," Solana said just after landing.

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NATO secretary-general Lord Robertson told CNN's Q&A programme that the ethnic Albanian rebels would not succeed in their aims by using violence.

He said Macedonia was a democratic sovereign state and the rebels would fail if they attempted to destroy the state.

He said: "Democracy is going to prevail. There is no way this can be resolved by those who prefer violence to votes."

On Wednesday, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said negotiations had ended because ethnic Albanian demands were too radical to allow a deal.

Despite heavy Western pressure, which continued at a dinner hosted by Trajkovski on Wednesday evening, the ethnic Albanians were sticking to demands for radical constitutional changes which diplomats said amounted to a federalisation of the state, Reuters reported.

Slav politicians claim that the ethnic Albanians are trying to stall talks beyond the deadline next week. The European Union has imposed a deadline of Monday by which time it wants to see substantial progress being made in producing a viable plan to end the violence.

Fresh attempts to reach a peace deal come as more violence erupted between government forces and rebels. Two civilians were reported killed on Wednesday as the Macedonian army shelled a village held by the rebels.

Other government officials told CNN that the ethnic Albanians were unwilling to compromise in the talks.

But rebel commanders of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army, who are holding several villages just outside Skopje, told CNN their demands were not too radical.

They said they were same demands that ethnic Albanians had been making for the past 10 years -- for equality in terms of education, employment, and language.

If the government is unwilling to make a deal, the rebel commanders are willing to continue fighting, they said.

In an interview with CNN, Solana expressed confidence that an agreement could be reached.

"The position that has to be found ... after the negotiations has to be the possibility of having a country in which both parties ... do feel comfortable living together.

"This is the aim of the international community, it is the aim of the European Union, and to that end we are going to do all our efforts," he said.

Albanian politicians say Solana's presence should get them back to the negotiating table.

Meanwhile in Brussels, NATO announced it has ordered its military planners to come up a plan for a military force to collect weapons if there is a peace agreement between the two sides.

NATO said the plan was a contingency, and that troops would be sent to Macedonia "only in the event of an agreement between the government and the various parties."

The planned force would be "brigade size" and diplomatic sources said that meant probably between 2,000 and 3,000 troops.

Politicians on all sides were studying a peace proposal drafted by Trajkovski which calls for a cease fire in hostilities between armed ethnic Albanian rebels and Macedonian security forces in the north of the country, an amnesty for rebels who disarm voluntarily, and inclusion of minority ethnic Albanians in state bodies and institutions.

The removal of references to ethnicity or religion from the constitution and adding Albanian as a state language were also on the table.

The ethnic Albanian programme addresses issues such as language and equality and sets out proposed changes in Macedonia's constitution.

Rebels in the northern hills say they are fighting for greater rights for ethnic Albanians but the government accuses them of seeking to grab land and split the state. The rebel groups were not represented in the talks.

Ethnic Albanians make up between a quarter and a third of the population in the majority Slav country.





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