Peace talks in Macedonia are facing a new hurdle after the prime minister's party yesterday demanded that ethnic Albanian fighters must disarm before any political accord is ratified in parliament. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz looks at how mediators' hopes of a speedy agreement could be set back by the issue of implementing a future accord.
Prague, 7 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- International mediators at Macedonia's peace talks say a new demand from Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski's VMRO party has raised doubts that an agreement can be reached quickly on ending the six-month-old ethnic Albanian insurgency.
The problems arose yesterday when Georgievski demanded that a clear timetable for disarming ethnic Albanian fighters be included in the political accord being negotiated by the country's main ethnic Albanian and Macedonian political parties.
Parliamentary speaker Stojan Andov initially raised the VMRO's concerns last week, saying it would be "shameful" for the legislature to consider any accord before ethnic Albanian fighters surrender their weapons and disband.
The U.S. mediator at the talks, James Pardew, says the latest demands are particularly troubling because they raise questions about the government's commitment to fully implement any future agreement.
Pardew says he does not think the international community can accept the new conditions, and that ethnic Albanian negotiators would be even less inclined to agree.
He said that by trying to link parts of the political accord to a separate military agreement -- involving NATO -- to disarm the rebels, Georgievski's party has moved the negotiations beyond the mandate of international mediators.
Commanders of the ethnic Albanian fighters have said they will disarm only after the accord is ratified by the parliament.
NATO officials insist they will not deploy peacekeepers in Macedonia to disarm the guerrillas unless a political accord has been signed by leaders of all major parties. They also want assurances from the ethnic Albanian fighters that they will voluntarily disarm.
But NATO's chief spokesman in Skopje, Major Barry Johnson, tells RFE/RL that deployment could conceivably come before an accord is ratified by parliament:
"If it facilitates the process for peace, and if it has the confidence of the elected government as well as the UCK (ethnic Albanian fighters) for their disarming, then based on the decision of the North Atlantic Council, if the conditions are right, they will authorize a deployment in full coordination with the government of Macedonia. So yes, there is definitely a very real possibility that [NATO deployments] could come before the formal parliamentary action."
Johnson also says an amnesty for ethnic Albanian fighters probably would have to be included in any peace deal before guerrilla leaders will agree to voluntarily disarm.
Despite the apparent setbacks cause by the VMRO's demands, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said officials in Washington think there eventually will be agreement between the leaders of the main ethnic Albanian and Macedonian political parties.
"I think there have been demands, charges, and countercharges throughout this process, but we have seen the parties, including the Macedonian government, work constructively in this process. We've seen them be able to reach agreements based on compromise on some very important issues, and we think that will continue."
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said on 5 August that negotiators were close to a final political agreement after breakthrough compromises were reached on the two most contentious issues -- making Albanian an official language in parts of Macedonia and restructuring the country's police forces to increase the number of ethnic Albanian officers.
Under a tentative compromise, Albanian would become an official language along with Macedonia in the parliament, as well as in parts of the country where more than 20 percent of the population is ethnic Albanian.
The agreement on restructuring the police calls for 1,000 ethnic Albanian officers -- or about 20 percent of the entire force -- to be working by the end of the year 2003. Currently about six percent of Macedonia's police are ethnic Albanians.
The agreement on police also would allow municipal committees to have input on local police matters, but it would leave the central control of police in the hands of the government in Skopje.
As talks in the southwestern resort town of Ohrid continued today, there were fresh reports of more violence -- this time in Skopje.
Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski said that five ethnic Albanians -- including a guerrilla commander known as "Teli" -- were killed this morning during a police operation in a predominantly ethnic Albanian suburb of the capital called Bergino.