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ANDOV: MACEDONIA SUCCESSFULLY AVOIDED ALL TRAPS.
Chairman of the Macedonian Assembly Stojan Andov returned today from Strasbourg, where he met with President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Russell Johnston.
"I informed the members of the Parliamentary Assembly on what was going on in Macedonia and what still needs to be done. I also reported that by the end of February and beginning of March terrorist groups, armed and trained in Kosovo, entered on Macedonian territory in order to obstruct the security system, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country," Andov said.
In his address to the Euro-parliamentarians he also reported that Macedonian security structures pushed back the terrorists, adding that at this moment Macedonia is secure and the police and army are ready to respond to any provocation. "I also stressed that these groups were inspired to attack by the ratification of the Agreement for demarcation between Macedonia and Yugoslavia and by the Stabilization and Association Agreement between Macedonia and EU, signed on April 9. The goal of these attacks was to create a confusion and to present Macedonia as incapable of maintaining internal order," Assembly Chairman Andov stated.
He stressed that the Council of Europe hails the development of Macedonia and considers that "Macedonia successfully avoided all traps."
Asked about the possibility for changes in the Constitution, Andov reported that no such initiative was submitted to the Assembly.
Regarding the forthcoming census, he said: "we have the strength to organize census during this year and to maintain the methodology of the United Nations."
Asked about Europes opinion regarding the meetings between President Boris Trajkovski and leaders of the political parties, Andov stressed that Europe supports this dialogue.
Referring to the announcements for establishment of wide governmental coalition, Andov reported that the Euro-parliamentarians consider that this idea should be realized swiftly.
On a journalists question regarding the financial affair in the ministry of defense, Andov answered that if this affair proves to be true the Government would have to clean the case efficiently.
Macedonian Moves to Postpone Census.
Agence France Presse
SKOPJE, Apr 24, 2001 -- (Agence France Presse) Macedonian political leaders on Monday agreed to postpone a census until the country has recovered from ethnic strife marked by a violent uprising last month, President Boris Trajkovski announced.
"Because of the situation in the country, and with the aim of carrying out the May 15 census more effectively, the census should take place by the end of October this year," Trajkovski told reporters.
He added that the goal of the census was "to show the real situation in the country" and for the population count to meet international standards.
Trajkovski's proposal met with approval from the country's parliamentary parties, who are holding talks to address the issue of equal rights demanded by the large ethnic Albanian minority.
According to the last census carried out in 1994, ethnic Albanians make up 22.9 percent of Macedonia's two million people, while Orthodox Slav Macedonians are the majority with 66 percent.
But the ethnic Albanians themselves claim they make up more than a third of the population.
Trajkovski said all the parties "fully supported the idea of postponing the census."
He said the country should secure the return of all refugees from the March conflict and rebuild houses damaged in areas where Albanian extremists clashed with Macedonian security forces.
The main parties also agreed to the establishment of an Albanian-language university in the trouble-hit town of Tetovo, he said.
He added they would also soon ratify a convention for the use of minority languages, as well as a third national television channel to be broadcast in Albanian.
Macedonia signed the European convention governing the use of minority languages in 1996, but parliament has not yet approved it.
All the issues approved in Monday's meeting must be given the green light by the government, which will pass them on to parliament.
The new reforms are aimed at averting another ethnic Albanian rebellion, after gunmen brought the multi-ethnic state to the brink of civil war in a crisis in February and March.
SCHARPING: MACEDONIA IS IMPORTANT FACTOR FOR THE DEMOCRACY IN THE BALKANS.
Minister of Defense of Federal Republic of Germany Rudolph Scharping met today with Macedonian Defense Minister Ljuben Paunovski.
Minister Paunovski expressed satisfaction from the support that Germany provides to Macedonia, especially in the military field.
"Support from such a distinguished country is a chance that we need to use and to enable to our citizens pro-European perspectives and not pro-Balkan conflicts," Minister Paunovski said.
In his opinion, Germany is one of the biggest donors to Macedonia, which is proven by the fact that the German armored military vehicles saved dozens of lives during the crisis.
The meeting was focused on the future cooperation and current political-security situation in Macedonia, Paunovski reported.
Referring to the political dialogue of political parties in Macedonia, Paunovski said that: "reason should prevail in finding true solutions to the problems, without any extreme demands."
Mr. Scharping also supported the political dialogue in Macedonia, saying that no negotiations could be carried out with the armed groups.
Paunovski considers that the Stabilization and Association Agreement between Macedonia and the European Union would urge the economic development not only in Macedonia but in the region as well.
Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization met Czar Simeon II.
The leadership of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization held a 45-minute meeting with Czar Simeon II in his residence in Vrana, the IMRO press-attache Petya Trifonchevska reported for the News.bg Agency. She emphasized that the subjects of the meeting were entirely private in character.
The Rousse-Giurgiu transborder Eurozone, created on Monday, is the first such structure along Bulgaria's northern border which has projects for development, Council of Europe's Guenther Mudrich said in Rousse.
Over 200 transborder zones have been operating within the EU for the past 20 years. Together with the protection of human rights, the development of Eurozones is another priority in the work of the Council because this way lies the creation of the basis for a unified continent, Mudrich said. The administrative authority of the Eurozone will consist of a Bulgarian chairperson and a Romanian deputy chairperson. They will present before the EU the first three joint projects that will apply for financing. Rousse and Giurgiu will get a shared gas network, a plant for the treatment of waste water from the two cities will be constructed in Giurgiu and the transborder Euro-university will be developed under the projects.
George Bush Received PM Kostov at the White House.
PM Ivan Kostov was received yesterday by US President George Bush. The talks were held in Richard Cheney's office. The Vice-President is hosting the visit of the Bulgarian Prime Minister. The talks continued longer than scheduled. The meeting was attended by Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The relations between the two countries were discussed. President Bush assessed highly the role of Bulgaria in settling the crises in Kosovo and Macedonia, as well as in ousting the regime of Milosevic. The reforms underway in Bulgaria have received high assessment as well. Earlier premier Kostov had a meeting with his host Vice-President Cheney. Yesterday, in the afternoon, he gave a reception for the Bulgarians living in the United States.
Bulgarian Leader, Under Fire, Sees Bush as Ally.
WASHINGTON, Apr 24, 2001 -- (Reuters) Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, fighting a fierce battle for re-election against ex-Communists and a former king, turned for support on Monday to a fellow conservative, President George W. Bush.
Kostov, an energetic vegetarian and former finance minister who looks younger than his 51 years, met Bush briefly in the White House to discuss ways of building harmony in the Balkans and at the same time help shore up his credibility at home.
"We came here to get support because we are in the run-up to elections. In American terms, we are conservative Republicans. We are a right-of-center majority in government," Kostov said in an interview later with Reuters.
Kostov has already drawn public political backing from European Union leaders, who support his tough economic and social reforms, aimed at knocking the poor Black Sea country into shape so it can eventually join the EU.
Kostov was unusually frank about the political motives of his four-day trip to Washington, so close to the formal opening of his own election campaign in 10 days.
He hopes to draw on the image the United States has established in the Balkans as an essential agent in building a stable and prosperous region out of the conflict, economic malaise and cross-border criminality of the last decade.
THE CHOSEN ROAD
Kostov and his Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova drew encouragement from the advent of the new Republican president, citing ideological sympathy and the backing that the U.S. party had given to Bulgaria's ruling Union of Democratic Forces.
Mihailova said, "I think that today's meeting with the president and the vice president was a sign of the strong support for the course that Bulgaria took in the past four years" when it supported U.S. moves in the Balkans.
The White House meeting, recorded and reported back to Sofia by Bulgarian reporters, gave "a sign that the road chosen by Bulgaria is the right one, and this is a message to the society in Bulgaria," she added.
The White House had little to say publicly about the meeting. Bush, in fact, dropped in to say hello during Kostov's scheduled talks with Vice President Dick Cheney.
After four years of painful reforms, Kostov's UDF needs all the help it can get ahead of the election on June 17. Polls give it the support of about 20 percent of the voters, about the same as the former Communist opposition Socialist Party.
Coloring the mix is King Simeon II, banned from his homeland as a child in 1946 as the Soviet-backed communists took control and now a Madrid-based businessman, who has launched the National Movement for Simeon II.
The king, who is still working on a manifesto and is little-known to his compatriots, drew a big initial following, but he stumbled on Monday when a Bulgarian court refused to register his movement for the election.
THREAT FROM A KING
For Kostov, Simeon II is still a threat, as analysts say he he could take part in the election by aligning himself with a party that has already registered. Kostov accuses him and other opponents of "trying to use people who harbor one illusion or another," which he says is a "kind of political dishonesty."
Evoking the Christian-based conservatism that Bush has espoused, Kostov, most of whose countrymen are Orthodox Christians, said: "We are doing our utmost to propagate the values of Christian democracy in Southeast Europe. We did a lot for the democratic opposition in Serbia to come to office. So in that sense, we are 'compassionate conservatives.'"
Asked why his ratings were low, Kostov, whose coalition has been hit by allegations of corruption and failure to raise living standards, blamed policies he brought in with international backing to revive a collapsing financial system.
"These are harsh, radical reforms. It took us four years to do what others were doing in 11 years, and we paid a high price," he said.
"A lot of people have not found a place for themselves in the reformed new Bulgaria yet. As a result of privatization, liquidation and administrative reforms, the unemployment levels are very high. That's the reason," he said.
Yugoslav army charges 183 soldiers for crimes in Kosovo war.
BELGRADE, April 24 (AFP) -
The Yugoslav army has charged 183 soldiers for alleged crimes committed during the war in Kosovo, the army headquarters said Tuesday in a statement.
"The investigations related to crimes committed by Yugoslav army soldiers in Kosovo from March 1, 1998, ... until June 26, 1999, are yet more proof of the serious efforts the army has taken not to hide, but to punish possible crimes," the army said.
Yugoslav forces and Serbian paramilitaries were accused by the West of committing widespread atrocities against ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo, prompting NATO to launch a bombing campiagn to drive them out of the province.
"During that period, and particularly during the (NATO) aggression, measures were taken even in the field in order to punish" the crimes, said the statement, carried by Tanjug news agency.
"On that basis, judicial proceedings have been launched against 245 people for crimes that caused the death or jeopardized the lives and security of people, their dignity or morale, as well as their property," the army said.
"Charges have been brought against 183" of those investigated, it added.
The army statement did not explicitly refer to war crimes.
Belgrade's army and special police fought ethnic Albanian guerrillas of Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in 1998 and 1999, but also targetted civilians, driving around 800,000 of them from their homes in a purge condemned by NATO as ethnic cleansing.
A number of crimes committed against ethnic Albanian civilians were reported during and after the war.
Belgrade has so far ignored reports and accusations by a number of prominent non-governmental groups and Western countries that its forces had committed war crimes in Kosovo.
The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, told the UN Security Council in November 1999, at the end of the first stage of the excavations, that a total 2,108 bodies had been exhumed from 195 sites across Kosovo.
"The army has several times clearly shown its complete readiness to shed light on any crime committed by its members during the war and to punish those who did it," the army statement said.
The army "is making huge efforts ... to keep its dignity and military honor," it added.
Albanian rebels down NATO unmanned plane in south Serbia: Belgrade.
BUJANOVAC, Yugoslavia, April 24 (AFP) -
Ethnic Albanian gunmen on Tuesday shot down an unmanned surveillance plane, apparently a NATO aircraft, flying over a rebel-held area of the Kosovo buffer zone in south Serbia, officials said.
NATO-led peacekeepers confirmed that one of their drones had disappeared in the area, although they gave no immediate reason for its loss.
"We lost a drone this afternoon" said Tore Idsoe, of the KFOR peacekeeping force.
"We cannot find it, maybe it is in the Ground Safety Zone," he said, referring to the demilitarised buffer zone where the rebels been fighting for self-rule for more than a year.
The drone was shot down at 3:20 pm (1320 GMT) while overflying rebel positions in the village of Gornja Susaja in the five-kilometre (three-mile) wide buffer zone, said Ljubomir Podunavac of the Serbian government press centre in Bujanovac, on the Serbian side of the zone.
NATO uses the unammned craft to observe the borders of Kosovo, a UN-run province used as a rear base for ethnic Albanian guerrillas in both Serbia and in multi-ethnic Macedonia to the south.
The guerrillas of the self-proclaimed Liberation Army for Presevo, Bujanovac and Medvedja regularly clash with government forces as they maintain their secessionist struggle against Belgrade.
This week they reportedly fired at a convoy in the area carrying US diplomats, the government press centre said.
Political leader killed in central Kosovo.
PRISTINA, Yugoslavia, April 24 (Reuters) - The mayor of a village in central Kosovo was murdered on Tuesday morning as he left his home, an international police spokesman said.
Ismet Raci, an ethnic Albanian who police believe is about 50 years old, was murdered at about 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) in Klina. He had suffered multiple gunshot wounds, United Nations police spokesman Barry Fletcher said.
Raci, a member of the moderate Democratic League of Kosovo political party headed by Ibrahim Rugova, was found face down on the floor in the stairwell of his apartment building in central Klina, Fletcher said. Police had no suspects.
The murder was the second of a political leader in Rugova's party in the last few months. Rugova's top advisor Xhemajl Mustafa was shot in front of his house in November. That case has not been solved.
Kosovo, a province of Yugoslavia with a separatist ethnic Albanian majority, has been under U.N. administration since Yugoslav Serb security forces called off a brutal anti-guerrilla campaign and withdrew in June 1999.
Ethnic violence has continued since, including numerous deadly attacks on Kosovo Serbs and other minorities by ethnic Albanians avenging years of repressive rule from Belgrade.