Macedonia aid package derailed 

Saturday, 8 December 2001 12:21 (ET)

Macedonia aid package derailed


SKOPJE, Macedonia, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Macedonia risks losing up to $173
million in international aid after parliament failed to pass a key piece
of legislation envisioned in a peace accord with ethnic Albanian rebels.

Disputes over a bill to grant new powers to local governments split
along ethnic lines, leading Albanian parties to walk out of parliament

European and American officials had made clear that passage of the law
is a precondition for a major aid package to the country, which is
struggling to recover after seven months of ethnic fighting. A
conference of Western governments and international lending institutions
was set to meet to approve the assistance before Christmas, but that now
appears impossible after Friday's parliament session was suspended.

"There is a definite link between the donors' conference and the
adoption of the law, and since they have so far not adopted it, plans
for the conference cannot proceed," said Rudi Lotz, a spokesman for the
EU in Macedonia.

The two main Macedonian parties voted Thursday to approve an amendment
to the legislation aimed at limiting some responsibilities to be assumed
by individual municipalities. Albanian leaders objected, saying that any
change to the bill at this stage violates the peace agreement and
jeopardizes the complex and long-awaited law on local self-goverment.

Albanian support for the bill is crucial, following a constitutional
amendment passed last month that requires legislation affecting minority
communities to receive a majority of their share of the votes in
addition to two-thirds support of the parliament overall. That means
that at least 13 Albanian and 67 Macedonian deputies must vote for the
final version of the bill in the 120-seat legislature.

One Macedonian analyst said it appeared that the real purpose behind the
Albanian walkout was to highlight this new reality, in effect flaunting
the Albanian minority's new influence in decision-making.

In the backdrop of the political maneuvering is Macedonia's increasing
difficult economic situation, highlighted by the government's agreement
Thursday to submit to stringent new monitoring the International
Monetary Fund, which had also been a condition of the aid package.

New figures from the IMF says Macedonia's economy experienced a sharp
recession this year, contracting by 4.5 percent, while the government
was forced to make major expenditures to fight ethnic Albanians
guerrillas. Even with a rosy forecast of 4 percent growth for 2002, the
government budget is still expected to run a deficit of about $100

Much of the requested aid money would not flow through government
coffers, but would be spent by international organizations on projects
like rehabilitating housing and infrastructure damaged during the

Though fighting stopped with the signing of the Aug. 13 peace accord and
the guerrillas have nominally disbanded, dozens of villages in the north
and west of the country remain outside police control.

Teams of international monitors are working together with police in a
plan to phase in re-entry of police into former rebel-held areas, backed
up by a 1,000-member NATO security force. Alliance Secretary General
George Robertson announced in Brussels Friday that the force's mandate
will be extended for three months, following a request by Macedonian
President Boris Trajkovski.

Also on Friday, Trajkovski signed pardons for 22 more Albanians accused
of terrorism, part of a general amnesty for the rebels agreed as part of
the peace accord. Eleven others of a total 88 being held in Macedonian
jails were released Wednesday.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.
All rights reserved.

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