SKOPJE, Macedonia – As NATO experts started to assess whether Macedonia's cease-fire will hold, the army reported sporadic shooting by the ethnic Albanian rebels in the second-largest city, Tetovo.
Barry Johnson, NATO's spokesman in Skopje, said 15 experts from the alliance are working to establish when 3,500 British-led troops can start their disarmament mission. On Wednesday, NATO's ruling body authorized the deployment of a 400-man advance team that will start arriving Friday. The overall mission still requires final approval.
Overall fighting in Macedonia has died down since Monday's signing of a peace deal between ethnic Albanian and Macedonian political leaders. But Macedonian army spokesman Blagoja Markovski said rebels violated the cease-fire 10 times by shooting at troops overnight in Tetovo. The army did not respond to the provocations, he added.
Macedonian police officials said they were expecting NATO experts in the Kumanovo region, north of Skopje, on Thursday to establish collection sites where the rebels will voluntarily turn in their weapons under the peace deal.
On Wednesday, President Boris Trajkovski asked parliament to start the process of amending the constitution to grant ethnic Albanians more rights — a condition of the peace plan.
The plan gives ethnic Albanians a larger share of power in the police, parliament and educational system.
Parliament speaker Stojan Andov said he tentatively scheduled a parliament session to discuss the amendments for Aug 31.
In a separate statement, Trajkovski offered amnesty to rebels who voluntarily surrender and did not commit war crimes — the second major condition of the peace accord.
The amnesty law is an incentive for the rebels to disarm after battling government troops for six months.
Fighting has shaken Macedonia since February, when ethnic Albanian rebels took up arms to seek more rights for their community, which makes up one-third of the country's population. Macedonians say the rebels want to seize a chunk of the country and call it their own.
"There will be no peace with the Albanians, and NATO is in deep delusion if they believe they will disarm terrorists for real," Milco Gjorgjevski, 34, a salesman from Skopje said Wednesday.
Maj. Gen. Gunnar Lange of Denmark, a senior NATO representative in Skopje, said that once the full mission gets the go-ahead and a permanent cease-fire is established, the deployment of troops responsible for disarming the rebels will take 10 days.
"We will have preliminary training and we will establish (weapon) collection points," he said. "Within 30 days, we expect to complete the mission."
Ethnic Albanians like Aslan Beqiri, 49, a shop owner, expressed hope NATO troops will safeguard their rights.
"I hope for something good. Shooting didn't do anything good to anyone, particularly not to Albanians," he said. "We suffered so much."