NATO Secretary-General George Robertson and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana postponed their scheduled visit to Macedonia today after the leaders of the country's ethnic majority rejected an EU- and U.S.-mediated peace plan.
Prague, 19 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Today's postponement of the two-day visit to Macedonia by European Union foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana and NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson followed ethnic Macedonian politicians' rejection yesterday of an internationally brokered peace plan.
Ethnic Albanian political leaders had said on 17 July that they were ready to sign the plan mediated by U.S special envoy to Macedonia James Pardew and his EU counterpart, Francois Leotard.
Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, who heads the nationalist party VMRO-DPMNE, denounced the peace proposal yesterday. He accused the U.S. and the EU of interference. "I can say that the leaders of the Macedonian political bloc are united in their opposition to something that is unacceptable." Georgievski also said that "what we have on the table is a document tailored to break up Macedonia." He dismissed the proposals as "a blatant violation of Macedonia's internal affairs." He said: "though much of their text is brutal, more brutal and worrying is the way in which [the U.S. and EU] are trying to break up Macedonian state institutions."
Similarly, the head of the other main Macedonian party, Social Democrat Branko Crvenkovski, said the document played into the hands of the insurgent National Liberation Army (UCK), and its political representative, Ali Ahmeti.
"It is clear that what we now have is practically a document made to order for Ali Ahmeti."
In a joint statement issued in Brussels today, NATO's Robertson and the EU's Solana characterized Georgievski's remarks as "disappointing [and] an undignified response to international efforts to assist in the search for a peaceful solution." They defended their efforts, saying "the international community has given no support or comfort to the ethnic Albanian armed groups." And they said the mediators' proposals reflect the international community's commitment to Macedonia's democratic institutions, territorial integrity, and sovereignty.
The collapse of the new plan further postpones the deployment of some 3,000 NATO peacekeepers, who are due to disarm ethnic Albanian insurgents once a peace accord is agreed upon. It also increases the likelihood that the 14-day-old cease-fire will disintegrate and widespread fighting will resume. The Macedonian Defense Ministry says the near collapse of the talks, as well as continued intermittent fighting, threaten the cease-fire agreement.
Solana and Robertson had at first postponed their trip upon hearing the peace plan had been rejected. Earlier in the day, Solana's spokeswoman, Christina Gallach, had said that the "trip [depended] on the situation on the ground." She added that the two officials "[preferred] to wait because the situation is very difficult in Macedonia." But Solana later told Reuters that he will travel to Skopje on Friday. It is not yet clear if Robertson will join him.
Security may also have been a factor in the postponement, which came shortly after Macedonia's Interior Ministry last night appealed to the public to refrain from protest demonstrations against the visit.
In an interview with RFE/RL's Albanian Unit last night, the head of the Democratic Party of Albanians, Arben Xhaferi, accused the Macedonian parties of wanting to start the 11-day-old talks from scratch.
"We accepted the Pardew documents. The Macedonian side has not yet [really] decided whether to accept or reject the plan. They want a new start of the negotiations, but I have no mandate for something like that."
Xhaferi did not specify the nature of his mandate in the talks -- whether from his party alone, or also from the UCK leadership, which is barred from the talks.
A spokesman for the other main Albanian party, the Party for Democratic Prosperity, says it also suspects the Macedonian parties want to restart the peace talks.
The controversy is largely over minority-language rights contained in the constitution. According to the Pardew-Leotard draft text, as quoted today by the independent Skopje daily "Dnevnik," Macedonian in the Cyrillic alphabet would remain the official language of the Republic of Macedonia. But if another language is spoken by at least 20 percent of the population, that language and its alphabet could also be an official tongue. This would apply to Albanian, which is written with Roman characters. Albanians make up between 22 and 33 percent of Macedonia's population.
Under the U.S.-EU proposals as well, in locally administered localities where at least 20 percent of the population speaks another language, that language and its alphabet would have equal status with Macedonian. This would apply to smaller minorities such as Serbs, Turks, Vlachs, and Roma.
The proposed changes would grant the right to use minority languages in communications with institutions of the central government, in parliament, and in parliamentary documents. Laws would also have to be published in the minority languages and civil servants would be allowed to sign their names on official documents in the language of the document.
Two explosions rocked Skopje this morning. A woman was seriously injured when she activated an explosive device under her luxury car -- a Rover -- in a Macedonian neighborhood on the east side of the capital. Earlier, someone tossed a hand grenade into a shopping center in Skopje's Albanian-inhabited northern neighborhood, causing material damage but no injuries. It is not clear to what extent, if any, the explosions are linked to interethnic tensions.