Macedonian lawmakers ratified in an emergency session late Saturday an agreement with Kosovo settling a border dispute between the two Balkan countries.
The deal, signed on Friday following months of negotiations, clearly demarcates the 150-kilometer (93-mile) frontier between the two countries and is expected to pave the way for them to establish diplomatic relations.
Kosovo's parliament ratified the deal earlier Saturday. The 120-seat Macedonian Parliament approved the deal with 72 votes for and 11 against, with the remaining deputies abstaining. Macedonia recognized Kosovo's independence a year ago, but refused to establish diplomatic relations with the new state without settling the dispute.
The United States and Sweden which currently hold the rotating six-month European Union presidency welcomed the deal. "The leadership of both countries has shown significant resolve and taken a major step forward to ensure regional stability. We look forward to the rapid establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries" the US Embassy in Skopje said in a press release.
A statement from the office of Kosovo's Prime Minister said the deal strengthens Kosovo's statehood and "deepens regional cooperation and stability."
Macedonian Prime minister Nikola Gruevski, who did not attend the parliament session, had assured the public earlier that Macedonia had kept its territory intact with the deal.
"There is no room for fear, because Macedonia did not give up even a millimeter of its territory with the deal", Gruevski said. But Macedonian opposition lawmakers disputed the deal, accusing the conservative government of "changing" the country's northern border.
"The Macedonian constitution is clear...either the parliament must ratify the deal with an enhanced majority, or the deal must be approved by referendum. We did not get an answer to the simple question whether Macedonia actually agreed on a change in its territory with this deal," Andrej Zhernovski, leader of the opposition Liberal Party said.
Liberal Party lawmakers staged a walkout, saying that the deal violates Macedonia's constitution.
The border demarcation deal is also likely to anger some Kosovo Albanians who claim they own about 6,100 acres of land within Macedonia.
The border was initially demarcated between Macedonia and Yugoslavia in 2001, when Kosovo was under UN administration. At the time ethnic Albanians had set up roadblocks to protest the move. The disputed area is close to where ethnic Albanians started their insurgency in Macedonia in 2001. It is still patrolled by some 1,000 US peacekeepers, deployed in Kosovo as part of the NATO-led peacekeeping force since 1999.