Macedonia rebels sign arms pact
SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Ethnic Albanian rebels battling the Macedonian government have signed a commitment to lay down their arms, pending a grant of amnesty from the government.
A NATO spokesman said discussions were continuing with the government over an amnesty, with some issues still outstanding. But an announcement could come as soon as Wednesday, the spokesman said.
A rebel commander told CNN that under the disarmament commitment, rebels would give up their arms in three stages over a 30-day period, with a verification process to satisfy the security concerns of both sides.
The disarmament agreement comes one day after leaders of the four main Macedonian and ethnic Albanian parties signed a peace deal to end the six-month conflict by improving the rights of the ethnic Albanian minority, which makes up about a third of the country's population of two million.
The Macedonian parliament, dominated by nationalists, must ratify the accord for it to take effect. A vote is to be held within 45 days.
Earlier on Tuesday, fighting was continuing between Macedonia's army and ethnic Albanian rebels but NATO sources said conditions were almost right to deploy troops to collect arms.
NATO ambassadors were due to meet on Wednesday to decide if terms have been met under the newly signed peace agreement for 3,500 soldiers to be sent in to disarm the rebels.
Officials from the military alliance told Reuters a final decision by ambassadors from the 19 NATO member states on whether to deploy the troops was unlikely on Wednesday. But a decision could be reached by the end of this week.
The officials said the decision to hold the North Atlantic Council meeting on Assumption Day, a bank holiday in Belgium, reflected NATO's desire to consult member countries fully. A decision to send troops could then be taken as soon as the conditions were right.
NATO set various conditions for deploying its forces to collect the arms of ethnic Albanian rebels. These included a lasting cease-fire and an agreement by the rebels to disarm.
About 15 NATO military experts flew to Skopje on Tuesday to review the truce and try to find ways of making it hold.
At about the time the peace plan was signed, rebels and security forces clashed at Beloviste near the town of Tetovo.
Meanwhile, in neighbouring Kosovo on Tuesday, NATO peacekeepers came under fire when they detained 16 suspected members of a Macedonian ethnic Albanian guerrilla group.
No one was wounded in the shooting late on Monday but two suspected members of the guerrilla National Liberation Army (NLA) had been previously injured and were taken to a U.S. army medical facility in the U.N.-governed province, NATO officials told Reuters.
"One individual had an amputated right arm and shrapnel wounds to his right leg, while the other had wounds to the right leg and other parts of the body," KFOR said in a statement.
Polish and Ukrainian peacekeepers detained the suspected NLA members and confiscated weapons including anti-personnel mines and rocket propelled grenades as the guerrillas prepared to cross into Macedonia, the statement said.
Two other suspects approached with five horses and opened fire. "The soldiers returned fire and the men and horses fled west across the Macedonian border," KFOR said.
In Macedonia, the OSCE said a number of bodies have been found in a village outside the capital Skopje that was hit in heavy weekend fighting.
Asked about unconfirmed reports of executions of ethnic Albanians in the village, a spokesman for the OSCE mission in Macedonia, Harald Schenker, told Reuters: "We can confirm that a number of bodies have been found in Ljuboten today."
Reuters reported that the bodies of five ethnic Albanian men, one of them elderly, had been found. They had apparently been shot at close range.
Macedonia said its security forces had killed five ethnic Albanian guerrillas in the village accused the OSCE of wrongly describing the dead as civilians.
The deaths on Friday of eight Macedonian soldiers in a landmine explosion on a mountain road outside the village sparked retaliation by government forces who bombarded suspected rebel positions nearby on Sunday.
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