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Balkan Report: August 14, 2001


14 August 2001, Volume 5, Number 57

PEACE OR WAR FOR MACEDONIA? In attacks by the ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army (UCK) on members of the Macedonian security forces, at least 17 Macedonian soldiers died on 9 and 10 August. The rebels appear to have struck in revenge after Macedonian police killed five alleged members of the UCK in Skopje on 6 August.

The weekend 11-12 August then saw the most serious fighting between government forces and the UCK to date in this conflict. Macedonian soldiers and police exchanged fire with the rebels in several clashes in and around Tetovo and in villages close to the capital. In the evening of 12 August and under heavy Western diplomatic pressure, the Macedonian government ordered a unilateral cease-fire.

The fiercest battle seems to have taken place around the village of Radusa on the border with Kosova, northeast of Tetovo. The Skopje daily "Dnevnik" reported on 13 August that up to 1,000 ethnic Albanian rebels, who had allegedly entered Macedonia only hours before, fought against the security forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2001). In a successful attempt to relieve units encircled in a police station, the army used helicopter gunships as well as fighter airplanes and tanks.

Interestingly enough, "Dnevnik" was the only newspaper that weekend that reported any casualties for the rebels, albeit unrealistically inflated ones of at least 300 dead. An independent newspaper well-known for its critical reporting, the editorial board has changed its policy in recent weeks. Branko Geroski, the newspaper's editor in chief, had long advocated a peaceful solution but changed his position after the recent attacks on Macedonian soldiers.

In an editorial entitled "Macedonia Chooses Between Freedom and Death," Geroski wrote on 9 August that there is no more time for political talks and patience: "There is nothing more to talk about or to negotiate. The Macedonians gave whatever they were asked for. If it was about rights -- well, rights we granted like no other normal European country. If it was about patience -- we have been patient enough. They have killed us enough in ambushes, denounced, betrayed, and sold [us]....

"We urge Commander-In-Chief [President] Boris Trajkovski to put on a camouflage uniform and show himself to his soldiers in Tetovo.... (We don't ask anything of Prime Minister Georgievski except that he not appear before our eyes). We ask the people whom we elected to lead us in good and in bad times, whom we pay and feed, to choose to lead us in this battle for justice, peace, and freedom."

Editorials in several other newspapers -- like the government-controlled "Nova Makedonija" -- supported Geroski's demands for a military solution.

It is obvious that the Macedonian government, as well as the ethnic Albanian rebels, tried to gain ground before the signing of the framework peace agreement announced for 13 August. And while the Macedonian leaders tried to show the sort of solidarity they have hitherto been lacking, the rebels tried to gain as much territory as possible.

It remains to be seen whether the guerrillas will observe the cease-fire. Most have said that they will, but their comments have often been conditional or qualified. Furthermore, it is not clear if the UCK and its self-declared leaders can really speak for all armed Albanians in the area (see the last article below and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 March 2001).

Whatever the case may be, the lack of clarity regarding the guerrillas' aims and cohesion seriously endangers the prospects for implementation of the Ohrid peace agreement. The ethnic Albanian political parties have nonetheless indicated that the political and military leaders of the UCK are willing to accept the framework agreement.

But while the international community's hopes center on the political agreement between the main Albanian and Macedonian political parties, it is not clear whether the population, the smaller parties, and the other ethnic minorities will accept it. As a commentator for "Nova Makedonija" put it on 11 August, a lot of questions remain open. This is at least in part because the exact content of the framework agreement will be published only after the partners in the Ohrid peace talks have signed it.

After the representatives of the international community -- Javier Solana for the EU and Lord George Robertson for NATO -- arrived in Skopje on 13 August, they most likely began to learn more about the sentiments of the population. As the daily "Vest" reported on 13 August, the conservative World Macedonian Congress (SMK) had already called for peaceful road blocks in the capital to prevent the signing of the document. And as Reuters noted, the Macedonian authorities gave the ceremony low-key treatment and did not turn it into the glitzy media event that the Western envoys had wanted. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

MACEDONIAN PEACE IN DOUBT -- EVEN WITH AGREEMENT. EU envoy Francois Leotard's announcement on 8 August that political leaders in Macedonia had initialed a peace accord was overshadowed by news of an ethnic Albanian ambush that killed 10 government soldiers and reports of renewed heavy fighting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 August 2001). Violence then continued overnight and into the next day, unabated.

Leotard had stressed in his initial announcement that "the political process will continue until Monday, 13 August, when the political agreement that we have prepared will be signed in Skopje." But already the next day, he appeared to be backing away from his optimistic announcement. The EU envoy warned that escalating violence might destroy the progress made during 11 days of negotiations in Ohrid.

Leotard's doubts arose after a call by Macedonia's National Security Council for a decisive offensive against the guerrillas in and around Tetovo. Among the members of the security council are President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski.

In a statement, the council said repeated guerrilla violations of a 6 July cease-fire called into question NATO's credibility on forging a peaceful settlement. The alliance helped broker the cease-fire but refused a request from Trajkovski to deploy peacekeepers even before the guerrillas agree to voluntarily surrender their weapons.

Carlo Ungaro, the head of the OSCE's Skopje mission, said that optimism about the Western-brokered political accord is waning. Ungaro noted that, even if the accord is signed, there are doubts whether the pact can be implemented.

The negotiations in Ohrid have focused mainly on how ethnic Albanians could be given broader rights -- including the use of Albanian as an official language -- as well as boosting the number of ethnic Albanian police officers and establishing some degree of community control over the police.

Western envoys participating in the talks announced breakthroughs several times, but soon learned to be more cautious. In any event, representatives of the National Liberation Army (UCK) are not taking part. Some guerrilla leaders have told reporters that they will respect a peace agreement accepted by the ethnic Albanian political parties, but others stressed that the guerrillas must be consulted first.

The political accord reportedly does not include details on implementing the agreement or for enforcing the peace. Those details are to be contained in a separate military agreement -- involving NATO -- that would follow the political accord.

The military pact must be signed by both the government and the leaders of the UCK. In exchange for guarantees that the guerrillas will disarm, the government in Skopje is supposed to guarantee an amnesty for guerrillas who have not committed war crimes. Precisely who or what that includes remains to be seen. Several observers have noted that it is unrealistic to expect that guerrillas will surrender only to be taken to jail.

NATO officials have said they will not deploy peacekeepers to help disarm the guerrillas until three conditions are met: the political accord is signed; an effective cease-fire is in place; and the rebels agree to voluntarily disarm.

William Hopkinson, an international security analyst at the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, told RFE/RL that NATO's conditions are preventing the alliance from playing an important role as an arbiter of peace. "Realistically, at the moment, I don't see the possibility of the [Macedonian and ethnic Albanian] sides coming together. And in part, that stems from the reluctance of NATO to go in before there is a political settlement. It's no good waiting until there is an effective cease-fire because I don't think there will be one. There may be bits of paper, but the Albanians giving up their weaponry and the Macedonian government getting its act together are both most unlikely without [a NATO] force on the ground first."

Hopkinson, who specializes in Balkan issues as well as U.S.-European relations, says that he believes NATO's reluctance to deploy troops is primarily the result of Washington's desire to avoid American casualties abroad.

Macedonia, which is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, asked NATO to deploy troops as part of a peace plan proposed by President Trajkovski on 14 June. But Hopkinson believes that several NATO states lack the political will to deploy troops in Macedonia without security guarantees. "My judgement is that the Americans will be extremely reluctant, that a number of the Europeans who might, in principle, be prepared to [deploy peacekeepers] -- the French or the British -- will hesitate. I think the Europeans will have a fear of what happened in the early 1990s in Bosnia: that the Europeans were on the ground and the Americans were not."

NATO's chief spokesman in Macedonia, Major Barry Johnson, told RFE/RL that the alliance is deeply concerned about the impact of the escalating violence on the peace process. "With the events that have happened here, the fighting, there is a very grim atmosphere right now and a lot of concern. It has a big impact on the [peace] talks. We're not sure yet, as all this starts to unfold, exactly what is going to happen. We're watching. We're trying to monitor the situation, and trying to determine what can be done to get everything back on track and find a peaceful solution before this deteriorates further."

Murtezan Ismaili, the ethnic Albanian mayor of Tetovo, told RFE/RL amid the fighting recently that he is unsure what impact the violence will have on the signing of the political accord. But he said he fears events are spiraling toward civil war. "From the position I am talking to you now, at the moment, it is difficult for me to judge what is really happening in the city. However, renewal of the fighting creates a great fear among the citizens and leads us to civil war, which is, of course, the worse thing for everyone."

The latest statement from Macedonia's Security Council reinforces Ismaili's contention that the country is sliding closer to civil war. The statement says even if the political accord is formally signed, there can be no question of implementing the agreement before the guerrillas are pushed back from the territory they have seized recently in the north and northwest of the country. (Ron Synovitz)

U.S. SLAMS DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN. In response to an anti-NATO and anti-American disinformation campaign in Macedonia and elsewhere in Europe (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 July 2001), the U.S. Office Prishtina, Office of Public Affairs, issued the following statement on 10 August:

"We are very concerned that the media in Macedonia, Kosovo, and elsewhere in Europe are conveying false reports on U.S. support for the so-called National Liberation Army [UCK] in Macedonia. Spreading misinformation makes it harder to restore a climate in which Macedonia's parties can implement the agreement initialed on 8 August.

"In particular, we are concerned about patently false information reported in the London "Sunday Times" and "Der Spiegel" that has been repeated in local media without verification or substantiation. Irresponsible and inflammatory reports undermine the genuine efforts of the international community to support a peaceful solution.

"The U.S. is committed to peace and stability in the Balkans. We have supported Macedonia over the last 10 years and are committed to its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and further democratic development.

"We call on all sides to respect the cease-fire agreement. We strongly condemn a pattern of deliberate cease-fire violations by ethnic Albanian armed groups. We expect these groups to come into full compliance with the terms of the cease-fire agreement. Violence impedes the achievement of political and social progress in the interest of all of Macedonia's people.

"There can be no military solution. All parties need to respect the agreement reached at Ohrid [and signed on 13 August].

"President [George W.] Bush's 24 July statement in Kosovo leaves no doubt: the U.S. stands against all who use or support violence against democracy and the rule of law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 July 2001). We have acted to block the flow of private funds from the U.S. to armed extremist groups.

"U.S. troops in KFOR (Task Force Falcon) are heavily engaged in interdicting the flow of arms to the so-called [UCK]. Thousands of grenades and mortars, hundreds of landmines, and numerous weapons and ammunition rounds have been seized and destroyed. KFOR's intensive, continuous border patrol demonstrates our commitment to act against violent extremists in the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2001). U.S. soldiers have been wounded and injured during interdiction operations.

"The U.S. -- with its EU, NATO, and OSCE partners -- is determined to stand behind Macedonia, as we have for 10 years, supporting the development of democratic and market economic institutions and its aspirations for full integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. We maintain our unity and resolve to see peace and order restored to Macedonia.

"We call on ethnic Albanian political leaders in Macedonia and Kosovo to support the resolution of the Macedonian conflict through political dialogue and publicly to call for respect of the cease-fire agreement and the full implementation of the peace agreement." (Edited by Patrick Moore)

MYSTERIOUS 'ALBANIAN ARMY' PART OF DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN? The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 13 August discusses what is known about the "Albanian National Army" (AKSH), which has featured in some media reports from Serbia and Macedonia in recent weeks. It is allegedly fighting for a Greater Albania, which is what Belgrade has long claimed is the goal of its ethnic Albanian opponents. No mainstream ethnic Albanian party in the Balkans endorses such a platform, however.

The Frankfurt daily concludes that the reports about the existence of the AKSH are not conclusive, and that the organization might be a militant splinter group, if it exists at all. The article notes that the political and security situation in the Balkans -- including Macedonia -- will remain unstable until the political status of Kosova is settled. All of the parties of the ethnic Albanian majority there favor independence (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 December 2000, and 23 February 2001). (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "NATO told the Macedonians not to use helicopters or planes and they did. I can't even walk today. I'm too scared. They're trying to kill citizens." -- Mirushe Mediu, a 23-year-old Albanian woman in a basement in Prsovce with 20 other women and children. Quoted by Reuters on 10 August.

"They're the ones pushing for war. I think we should give peace a chance and respect the agreement." -- Guerrilla commander code-named Matoshi, in the same article.

"Personally I am convinced that with complete unity and avoidance of earlier mistakes, Macedonia has the strength to win the fight for its own defense." -- Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, in Skopje on 10 August. Quoted by Reuters. He also expressed his disdain for a "shameful capitulation and a shameful agreement under pressure from Albanian terrorist paramilitaries."

"Among rumors in Skopje was one suggesting ethnic Albanian guerrilla leader Ali Ahmeti was in [town having] talks with NATO. One Western diplomatic source laughed at the suggestion, saying: 'Yes, he's here and talking to Elvis.'" -- From a Reuters dispatch from Skopje on 13 August.

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