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Balkan Report: March 15, 2002

15 March 2002, Volume 6, Number 13

The next issue of "RFE/RL Balkan Report" will appear on 5 April.

ARE AID AND AMNESTY ENOUGH FOR MACEDONIA? One year after Tetovo erupted in violence, Macedonian authorities lifted a curfew in the country's largest Albanian-majority city on 11 March. An amnesty for former ethnic Albanian insurgents enacted recently by Macedonia's parliament has resulted in the release from prison of former insurgents of the disbanded National Liberation Army, or UCK (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). And on 12 March, an international donors meeting was held in Brussels to raise money for Macedonia's reconstruction. But just how stabile is the peace?

Referring to Tetovo, Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski says the curfew was lifted "in view of the stabilization of the situation [there]."

In fact, the situation has changed little in recent months -- with the city remaining calm, but isolated shooting in the nearby Sar mountains being reported in the Macedonian news media almost daily.

The only place in the country where a curfew still remains in effect is the Albanian-majority Skopje suburb of Aracinovo, the scene of heavy fighting between insurgents and Macedonian security forces last year.

Meanwhile, three days after the amnesty went into effect on 8 March, the authorities released from prison 10 convicted insurgents and 18 detainees awaiting trial, and dropped charges against 270 others still at large. Several thousand more Albanians who are Macedonian citizens and who fought with the rebel UCK last year are also now free from the threat of being prosecuted.

The only exception to the amnesty is for war crimes. Macedonian Justice Minister Ixhet Mehmeti explained the amnesty to RFE/RL's Skopje bureau the day of the releases from prison: "In accordance with the law, the whole thing [amnesty] has until 2300 hours [on 11 March] to be carried out. That means all people who are being held in prison for acts committed in the conflict will be freed today."

In Mehmeti's words, "all former members of the UCK who were convicted are now free."

Among the prisoners to be released was Muharem Ramadani, one of a group of 12 former UCK guerrillas, who is now a free man: "We are morally strong. I was sentenced to three and a half years. Thank God we are alive and free."

Ramadani, whose seizure by Macedonian police last year was reported by local Albanian-language media as a kidnapping and not a legal arrest, accused the police of mistreating UCK prisoners: "We were mistreated physically and psychologically. But we survived. Now the most important thing is the political struggle."

Ramadani added that the priority now is for all sides to concentrate on implementing last August's Ohrid peace agreement. The accord provided for disbanding and disarming Albanian insurgents in return for greater rights for Macedonia's Albanian population, including the use of the Albanian language in the public sector.

The prompt release of prisoners was not coincidental. The amnesty had to be invoked prior to the 12 March international donors conference in Brussels, where 40 countries and organizations pledged some 578 million euros -- much more than had been anticipated -- to help Macedonia's economy. EU officials said that the largest part of the money -- 185 million euros -- is needed for shoring up the domestic budget. An additional 45 million euros is required for the reconstruction of homes, schools, and general infrastructure in the country's war-damaged northwestern region. Twenty-five million euros is needed to implement the Ohrid agreement, which includes de-mining, decentralizing the government, improving multilingual teaching, and expanding the use of the Albanian language in official business.

Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister Zoran Krstevski told RFE/RL's Macedonian service before the conference that the final sum might be much higher than the anticipated 256 million euros, due to various bilateral arrangements. He noted that so far the Netherlands and Greece have been the biggest donors and that negotiations are continuing with Italy, as well as with Japan, which has expressed interest in direct economic investment.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank has called for any assistance to Macedonia to be tied to the country undertaking what it terms "serious anticorruption and reform efforts." The ICG wants the Macedonian government to agree to the European Commission sending an anticorruption adviser to Macedonia, according to "The Wall Street Journal Europe" of 12 March.

Meanwhile, the peace is fragile. While most former key UCK commanders have welcomed the amnesty, Albanian splinter groups and Macedonian nationalists alike continue to threaten the peace. The circumstances surrounding the alleged 2 March killing near Skopje of seven south Asians by a Macedonian police patrol remains a mystery. There are growing suspicions in the diplomatic community that the incident was a set-up by Macedonian nationalists to derail the amnesty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 March 2002).

Macedonian Foreign Minister Slobodan Casule, who recently threatened that war could erupt with Kosova over the two countries' common border, is now challenging the UN's chief administrator in the province, Michael Steiner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). Casule says if he cannot get a satisfactory statement from Steiner about the functioning of the Kosova government, he will demand that he [Steiner] be replaced.

Kosova President Ibrahim Rugova and Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi have both rejected a border agreement that the presidents of Macedonia and Yugoslavia signed in February 2001. The accord also covers the Kosova stretch of Macedonia's northern border, but Kosovar Albanians, who were not consulted, note the deal transferred some 2,500 hectares of Kosova's territory to Macedonia. Steiner has scolded Rexhepi for suggesting that he might take up the border issue with the UN Security Council. Kosova's status -- as a Yugoslav province under UN administration and occupied by NATO-led peacekeeping forces -- bars him from doing so. (The Kosovar government has no foreign or defense minister.)

Macedonia, while an internationally recognized state, has somewhat limited sovereignty due to the presence of NATO peacekeepers, monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and international mediators -- without whom a peace agreement and amnesty would probably not have been reached. The international community, for now, remains the best guarantee that peace will prevail. (Jolyon Naegele)

MACEDONIAN REACTIONS TO THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT'S HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT. The U.S. Department of State recently published the latest installment of its annual "Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Macedonia" (available at As might be expected of a country that for the most part of 2001 was on the brink of an all-out civil war, the report noted a wide variety of human rights abuses during the period under review.

Among the most serious abuses, the report lists violence committed by members of the security forces (army and police), as well as by members of the -- since-disbanded -- ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK). It also notes shortcomings in the judicial system and arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence.

Shortly after the report was published, Macedonian journalists asked leading politicians of the largest ethnic Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political parties to comment on the text. The results of these ad-hoc interviews were very mixed, reflecting the politicians' stands on related issues.

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski of the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization--Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) admitted that he had not yet read the report. He nevertheless used the opportunity to make a statement about it. "If what has been written about [the report] in the news is true, then my comment is that the report is tendentious in that it minimizes the [importance of] extremism and terrorism, from which Macedonia has suffered. It is also offensive to the entire Macedonian state and all citizens who defended the territorial integrity of our country," the daily "Nova Makedonija" quoted him as saying.

The largest ethnic Macedonian opposition party, the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), adopted a more moderate position toward the report. Deputy Chairman Radmila Sekjerinska told journalists of the opposition daily "Utrinski vesnik": "We welcome the fact that the report discusses the serious human rights abuses and crimes committed by the UCK. We also support the thesis that the government acted undemocratically toward the media and the opposition." Sekjerinska also criticized the report for not mentioning the well-known case of the 12 kidnapped Macedonians. But she obviously had not read the report, either, as it clearly mentions the case in its section about disappearances.

The coordinator of the parliamentary group of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), Zamir Dika, said that he cannot say whether the report is good or bad, because "truth always has two faces." Dika nonetheless condemned negative comments about the report: "We have to ask ourselves whether we are doing our best in the domain of civil rights, because perhaps we or the state institutions have violated them."

Mersel Biljali of the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) called the report "objective." He stressed the need to assess it only after careful study instead of dismissing it outright.

Perhaps the strongest reaction, however, came from a newspaper commentator. In his editorial for the daily "Dnevnik," on 7 March, Branko Gjorgjevski wrote that the human rights report in general depicts the situation in Macedonia as it is -- even if one disagrees about some details. "We do not have to be angry about [For] us, it is clear that in a country where there was war all year long, democratic standards cannot flourish.... But who might be interested in this report? Someone like Petre Petreski, who lost his home during the war? What does the report mean to the approximately 70 members of the security forces who lost their lives? Will the leader of the former UCK turn gray because the State Department says that his army carried out ethnic cleansing? No.... The sole fact that the report applies the same criteria [to Macedonia] as to peaceful countries speaks for its 'objectivity.'... It is ridiculous to tell someone [who lives in a country at war] that human rights have been abused there." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

MIXED MESSAGES AT BALKAN PARLIAMENTARY GATHERING. The speakers of parliament of the countries of Southeastern Europe gathered at a conference in Tirana on 5 March and called for better regional cooperation in fighting organized crime and all forms of trafficking. But some conference participants -- while sharing a common desire to cooperate in the fight against crime and corruption -- chose to emphasize the primacy of European integration over regional cooperation.

The deputy speaker of one of the two chambers of the Yugoslav federal parliament, Zarko Korac, was one of those calling for more regional cooperation: "There is no doubt there is more need for regional cooperation. There are many areas [in which] we can cooperate in the Balkans. At this conference, a few of them have been emphasized very strongly in practically all the speeches. For example, economic cooperation, also border control, visa regimes, and security."

Some participants expressed frustration with the existence of legal vacuums and the absence of local authorities in international protectorates -- that is, Kosova and to a considerable extent Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Adrian Severin is president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and a former foreign minister of Romania. "We still have several protectorates in the Balkans, and their perspectives are still unclear. We still have all over the Southeast European area a lot of corruption and organized crime [which] we are unable to curb significantly. More dangerously than that, we have structural deficiencies which generate crime and terrorism, as well as a quite tolerant attitude of states' authorities toward these intolerable phenomena."

According to Severin, "the international community's contribution still either comes too late or is too inconsistent or sometimes is inadequate."

Macedonia's parliament speaker, Stojan Andov, said European integration remains a priority for Macedonia, even ahead of regional cooperation. He said European integration will help accelerate the resolution of security issues. "The desired regional cooperation is not and cannot be a substitute for our integration into European structures. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, building new barriers is simply unacceptable. Unfortunately, for the citizens of some of the countries in the and passport regulations are more rigid than ever."

The speaker of Bulgaria's parliament, Ognian Gerdjikov, the only one of the countries in attendance to have been a frontline Warsaw Pact member state, took the most optimistic line of all participants. He said that "never before have the countries of the region had such favorable opportunities for taking common actions and finding mutually acceptable solutions to the [problematic] issues in their relations." Gerdjikov added: "Today, for the first time in the region's history, all the countries of Southeastern Europe have embraced the common European values of peace, good neighborliness and cooperation, democracy and respect for human rights, [and] economic and social progress. European and Euro-Atlantic integration is their common objective."

The prime minister of the host country, Albania's Pandeli Majko, nevertheless pleaded for greater emphasis on regional cooperation as one component of European integration. As he put it, "The model of relations [that] EU countries have implemented should become ours."

Albania has a free-trade agreement with Macedonia and is negotiating a similar agreement with Croatia. Albania and Montenegro have re-activated road and railway connections.

The speaker of Albania's parliament, Namik Dokle, applauded the cooperative approach made by the Southeastern European countries in the legislative field, noting that joint efforts must now focus on the war against terrorism, in addition to other criminal activities. "That's why I think the war against international terrorism, against illicit trafficking, [and] against corruption and other negative phenomena which have contaminated virtually all the countries in the region, should become the core of our future strengthened cooperation."

Dokle echoed his Macedonian counterpart's concerns, calling for the liberalization of visa regulations for citizens of states in the region to permit freer travel between Balkan countries.

Nevertheless, Albania -- while having made considerable progress in developing its infrastructure and raising its standard of living, particularly since the 1997 unrest -- still faces considerable domestic social problems that may hamper its ability to integrate regionally, let alone at a European level.

According to a country report on human rights practices released this week in Washington, Albania is far from meeting standards on the rule of law. The U.S. State Department says police officers in Albania "often were involved in cases of trafficking in persons, and although the number of Albanians subjected to trafficking to other countries has decreased, Albania remained [in 2001] a significant country of origin."

The report notes Albania was a major transit country for trafficked women and girls due to weak border controls, corruption, and its proximity to Italy. (Alban Bala)

SLOVENIAN CENSUS TO INCLUDE RELIGION QUESTION. On 8 March, the daily "Delo" reported a Constitutional Court decision to retain the controversial question on religious affiliation in the April census (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 January 2002). The court approved the question by a 5-3 margin, ruling that it does not violate Slovenia's constitutional separation of church and state. Census workers will be required to raise the question, although respondents will not be obliged to answer it.

Dissenting Judges Lojze Ude and Ciril Ribicic maintained that the data on religious affiliation will not serve purely statistical purposes, but the interests of certain political groups and institutions instead. Such interests might involve obtaining special rights for religiously distinct minorities -- for example, Serbian Orthodox or Bosnian Muslims -- or campaigning for religious instruction in public schools.

In the same session, the court rejected, by a margin of six to two, census questions designed to establish a registry of buildings, apartments, and households. The judges reasoned that this would amount to using personal data, gathered for statistical purposes, for administrative functions beyond the scope of the Bureau of Statistics. Some 8,000 census workers will carry out the tally across Slovenia between 1 and 15 April. (Donald F. Reindl)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Prishtina is not Belgrade, and Belgrade is not Prishtina. This means that I will not [meddle] in Belgrade affairs, and Belgrade will not [meddle] in Prishtina affairs. This is for me the red line concerning cooperation." -- UNMIK head Michael Steiner, speaking in Prishtina after meeting with Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic on 6 March. Quoted by RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service.

"The EU is not acting as a mediator for European integration but as a policeman of the new European order." -- Unnamed Montenegrin civil society leader, quoted in "The Independent" on 11 March.

"I don't know who the Macedonians have arrested, but nobody has been turned over to us." -- Philip Reeker, a State Department spokesman, quoted in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," 8 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 6, and 7 March 2002).

"All of us who gave up weapons last year are for peace in this country, and we will stand by that. I hope now the imprisonment and mistreatment of the Albanians will come to an end. I hope Macedonia is entering a new phase, leaving behind institutionalized discrimination against the Albanians." -- Former guerrilla leader Hajrulla Misini, better known by his nom de guerre, "Shpati." Quoted by dpa from Skopje on 8 March.