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Agreement on Macedonia police

Solana
Solana: "I think we can say that the parties have agreed on the document on police"  


OHRID, Macedonia -- Macedonian negotiators on Sunday reached agreement on police reforms, removing one of the main sticking points in the week-long talks.

European envoy Javier Solana, who joined the talks Sunday, said the power-sharing deal governing the country's police forces was a significant step forward in the peace process.

"I think we can say that the parties have agreed on the document on police," Solana told a news conference. The European Union foreign policy chief did not outline the plan.

But Western mediators indicated that a final peace deal could be reached as early as Monday.

"The hard part is behind us," U.S. envoy James Pardew told CNN, adding that "we could get this done very, very quickly" once the talks reconvene Monday morning.

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Pardew described Sunday's deal as a "fundamental restructuring" of the Macedonia police.

Under the agreement, 1,000 Albanian policemen will be hired by July 2003 and deployed "according to the composition and disposition of the population," Pardew said. "There will be more Albanian policemen in Albanian areas."

Currently only 5 percent of the Macedonia police force is ethnic Albanian.

The appointment of police chiefs was another issue decided Sunday. According to Pardew, the chiefs will be appointed by Macedonia's interior minister and approved by municipal councils, increasing the councils' authority over the police chiefs.

Pardew described Sunday's deal as the "second of the two big hurdles" in the talks, the first being an agreement on language that was settled earlier in the week. Under that agreement, Albanian will be considered an official language in areas where ethnic Albanians make up at least 20 percent of the population.

The agreement on police reform came on the eighth day of Western-mediated talks between government officials and leaders of the country's ethnic Albanian political parties.

The talks are the latest effort to reach a political settlement to end a violent insurgency by ethnic Albanian rebels that has destabilized the Balkan nation.

-- Journalist Juliette Terzieff contributed to this report.






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