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NATO warns rebels to stay disarmed, urges Macedonians to implement peace deal

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) _ Concerned by the threat of new unrest after days of scattered gunfire, NATO warned ethnic Albanian rebels and Macedonians on Tuesday not to waver from their obligations under a Western-brokered peace plan.

If the rival sides in the tense Balkan country fail to respect the peace agreement they signed in August, ``they have to understand what possible consequences will be and live with them,'' NATO spokesman Mark Laity said Tuesday.

Leaders of the Macedonian majority have agreed to grant broader rights and more political influence to the restive ethnic Albanian community, nearly a third of Macedonia's 2 million people.

In exchange, the rebels, who launched an insurgency in February, have surrendered thousands of weapons to NATO troops and announced they have disbanded.

Expressing concern about recent shootouts in Macedonia's volatile northwest, where two police checkpoints were targeted but nobody was hurt, Laity said that if the rebels ``return to arms now ... our attitude will be very tough indeed.''

The ethnic Albanian militants ``have done the right thing by disbanding, but they must stay disbanded,'' he told reporters.

Attempting to ensure the Macedonians fulfill their part of the bargain, U.S. envoy James Pardew met with parliament speaker Stojan Andov and urged him to help speed approval of the peace accord in the Macedonian-dominated legislature.

Andov has said he would do that only if the militants release more than a dozen missing civilians or say what has happened to them. The rebels have said they hold no hostages, and Laity warned the Macedonians against such conditions.

``There were no 'ifs,''' when the accord was signed in August, he said.

Laity also stressed the need for an amnesty for all rebels who are not suspected of war crimes.

``If they decide not to have an amnesty, there will be consequences. If people vote against the agreement, there will be consequences. People have to understand that,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Macedonian lawmakers continued agonizing over adopting promised concessions to the ethnic Albanians, reiterating accusations that the true aim of the rebels was to separate the mostly ethnic Albanian-populated parts of northwestern Macedonia from the rest of the country. Ethnic Albanian militants are still in control in parts of the northwest.

The 4,500-strong NATO mission that collected the rebel weapons ended last week, but a follow-up mission is assembling in Macedonia. Its task will be to help provide security to international civilian monitors, who will oversee a gradual return of Macedonian government forces to contested areas.
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