NATO says weapons collection in Macedonia on track despite delays in parliament

Saturday, September 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) _ With weapons collection from rebels on track but Macedonia's parliament delaying action on peace deal promises, officials said Sunday that NATO's chief would visit this week to keep the reconciliation process on track.

NATO spokesman Mark Laity said alliance Secretary-General Lord Robertson planned a visit sometime in the week for talks on amnesty for ethnic Albanian rebels and other aspects of the fragile peace agreement.

The Macedonian government has promised amnesty to rebels not implicated in criminal acts during their six-month insurrection that started in February, but there have been concerns that no action has been taken beyond that pledge.

NATO troops are on a limited 30-day mission ending Wednesday to collect 3,300 weapons being voluntarily handed in by the rebel National Liberation Army.

A Macedonian government request for a small NATO force to protect international monitors beyond that date is being discussed at alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

Under a step-by-step peace plan, parliament must approve constitutional amendments granting the ethnic Albanian minority greater rights in exchange for the weapons being surrendered. The rebels have also pledged to disband.

The alliance has already collected more than two-thirds of the arms, and began gathering the last batch on Thursday, despite delays in parliament's second phase of the process.

Legislators on Friday discussing the second phase gave preliminary approval of three of 15 constitutional amendments, but later suspended further voting until Monday.

Approval is only a step in the process of making the amendments law. After all 15 amendments are accepted by a two-thirds majority in the 120-seat parliament, they must be put to public debate. Only then would legislators be called upon to formally enact the changes into law.

It is unclear what will happen if the parliamentary delays continue even after the rebels have handed in their weapons.

``We enter into a realm of uncertainty,'' Laity said. ``And obviously, uncertainty is worrying.''

Underscoring the continuing tensions in the troubled Balkan country, an explosion rocked an ethnically mixed neighborhood in the capital, Skopje, early Sunday, destroying a currency exchange office. There were no injuries, and police were investigating.