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Balkan Report: August 31, 2001


31 August 2001, Volume 5, Number 62

The next issue of "RFE/RL Balkan Report" will appear on 7 September.

MACEDONIA: ESSENTIAL HARVEST UNDER WAY. The two NATO officers -- British Major Alexander Dick and Major Barry Johnson of the U.S. Army -- were pleased with the results of the first day of Operation Essential Harvest on 27 August. This was so even though the press conference in the Skopje Holiday Inn Hotel was overshadowed by the death of a young British soldier, who was killed when Macedonian youths threw large pieces of concrete at his jeep (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2001).

Major Dick announced that on the first day, NATO soldiers collected from the fighters of the National Liberation Army (UCK): some 300 AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles, about 60 to 80 light and 10 heavy machine guns, 20 to 30 rifles, 10 to 15 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 5 to 10 60-mm mines, 5 to 10 82-mm mines, several mortars, unspecified antitank weaponry, nearly 200 pieces of unspecified ammunition, around 500 pieces of 7-62 caliber ammunition, some 50 mines, about 30 RPG antitank mine launchers, approximately 30 82-mm bombs, and around 400 pieces of 12.7-mm ammunition.

Asked about the age of the arms, Dick answered that they were in quite good condition: "It's pleasing to see that some of [the weaponry] is in very good condition, practically new."

The Skopje daily "Dnevnik", which is one of the most widely read newspapers in Macedonia, however, had the headline: "The Albanian terrorists turned in their 'museum arms'" on its front page on 28 August. The article itself was rather balanced, but it pointed out that among the 400 guns was one World War I-era Mannlicher carbine and one old M-48 assault rifle.

This kind of reporting by some Macedonian media may be the reason for the restraint NATO officials exercised the following day. In an interview with the BBC, Major Dick did not want to go into details. He declined to answer a question about the kind as well as the total number of arms handed in by the ethnic Albanian rebels on the second day. He noted, however, that the second day went smoothly as well.

CNN reported that among the weapons the rebels left at the collection point at Otlja near Tetovo were also "sophisticated anti-aircraft" weapons.

The picture that Macedonia presents in these decisive days is very complex. It is a mixture of high hopes and deep fears. Hopes are running high that a successful Essential Harvest will be a first step towards a peaceful solution of the political crisis that has destabilized Macedonia for the past six months. Even if the weapons collection is merely a symbolic act, it nevertheless is a sign of good will.

Fears are deeply rooted that the UCK rebels will not hand in all their arms. Many Macedonians are afraid that the bomb attacks on Lesok monastery and on the Brioni Motel near Tetovo, as well as the explosions that went off in Skopje during the early morning hours of 27 August, are but the first signs of future "terrorist" acts.

Some authors link this fear to NATO's eventual success or failure in collecting as many UCK arms as possible. In a comment for "Dnevnik," Dejan Nikolovski wrote on 28 August: "The terror is directed at us. Our people are being slaughtered and expelled [from their homes], and their homes are being set on fire. While NATO can withdraw, we have to remain here. That is why Macedonia has to support the arms collection without reservations, [and also] because the leaders of all relevant parties have signed the [comprehensive political] agreement. But at the same time, Macedonia has to prepare [itself] for a longer anti-terror campaign. The Macedonians share the plight of the Israelis and have to respond adequately to the challenges of terrorism."

While Nikolovski looks only at the immediate consequences if the rebels do not disarm and disband, Mirjana Najcevska -- in "Utrinski vesnik" on 28 August -- criticizes such an approach as shortsighted.

In her view Macedonia needs a new leadership, a new political culture, and a solid democracy. Some politicians would like to build a "militant state." Najcevska writes that if that were to happen, "wild beasts (Tigers, Lions, Wolves [the names of special police and army units]) and dangerous birds (Hawks, Eagles, Vultures [the names of Macedonian paramilitary groups]) will roam the country. They will be led by street thugs, coffee-shop tsars, misunderstood philosophers, former painters, poets [Georgievski styles himself as a poet]...and they all enjoy the court-jester called the government spokesman."

Instead, Najcevska dreams of a peaceful country without tanks, heroic statues, and big banners. A country that develops its education and draws upon small but precious natural resources. "In this perspective, there is no place for a powerful state, but a state that serves the citizen[s] and their welfare." At the end of her article she states that she will work for this vision with all she has.

Amid all the negative and skeptical voices, Najcevska offers a refreshing, if somewhat utopian, alternative. But whether her proposal for disarming the UCK would have worked is, however, doubtful. It is hard to believe that the UCK fighters would have "sold" their arms for 500 German marks each to the Macedonian state. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

MONTENEGRIN MOUNTAIN MURDER MYSTERY. A recent murder and robbery in the mountain forests on Montenegro's border with Kosova is raising concerns that Montenegro, while trying to redefine its relationship with Serbia in the Yugoslav federation, may fall victim to ethnic clashes.

Police in Montenegro and Kosova are still searching for three Albanian-speaking masked attackers, armed with automatic weapons, who killed a woodcutter, shot and wounded a second, and robbed a third on the north slope of Prokletije -- the Accursed Mountains -- in Montenegro's border zone with Kosova on 24 August. The Montenegrin Interior Ministry said on 28 August that it has determined the identity of persons from Kosova involved in the incident, having made its investigations in cooperation with the international police force in Kosova.

All three victims were exiled Bosnian Serbs from Kotor Varos. The incident occurred at Jelenak near Plav, nine kilometers north of the point where the borders of Montenegro, Kosova, and Albania converge.

The police chief in Plav and the magistrate in Bijelo Polje said the motive for the attack was robbery. They note that the attackers stole three power saws, two wristwatches, and an earring, and believe that the attackers probably fled back into Kosova.

UN police in Kosova reported two similar incidents the day before the murder-robbery. In one incident, Albanian-speaking men stopped a car of Kosovar Albanians and robbed the passengers of their jewelry, money, and cell phones, and shot the driver of a second car in the leg after he refused to stop.

The mayor of Plav, Kemal Purisic, conceded there is a problem in the mountains: "We have a problem in the border region near Kosovo where this group is operating. This group crossed over the border, but I hope that the authorities will succeed in protecting the people and their property, and that this scenario will not spread any deeper into Montenegro."

He says he is convinced that Montenegro's Albanians are committed to co-existence with Montenegrins and other nationalities in the republic.

Virtually all political parties in Montenegro seized the opportunity to denounce the violence, but they interpreted the incident according to their needs.

The spokesman for the pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party (SNP), Dragan Koprivica, said the murder-robbery is troubling and "shows that Montenegro is an unstable area." He accused the ruling party in Montenegro -- President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) -- and its local Albanian allies of being "instructed by their greater Albanian mentors in Tirana and Kosovo to heat up the situation."

Koprivica also accused Albanians from across the border of buying up homes in Montenegro, which he said is proof that Albanians have a secret plan to dominate Montenegro.

But the spokesman of the DPS, Igor Luksic, responded that "Koprivica is living in a twilight zone" and that "there is not a single item of military intelligence to confirm his allegations."

Similarly, the deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Ranko Krivokapic, dismissed Koprivica's allegations, alleging that some Albanian parties in Montenegro are more patriotic -- that is, pro-Montenegro -- than Koprivica's pro-federal and traditionally pro-Slobodan Milosevic SNP. The Podgorica daily "Vijesti" quoted Krivokapic as saying, "Once again, there are those who would launch ethnic wars and who don't like what they see today in The Hague."

The pro-Serbian Montenegrin daily "Dan" in July alleged that Albanian residents of Plav and the neighboring village of Gusinje tried to stage a rebellion but failed due to a lack of interest among the local Albanian population, which lives side by side with Montenegrins and Slavic Muslims.

But the French news agency AFP recently quoted an unnamed NATO official as saying that, ever since the peace deal was concluded in Macedonia on 13 August, NATO has observed suspicious activity in the areas between Macedonia and the Plav/Gusinje area of Montenegro.

Montenegro and Macedonia do not share a common border and are separated by Kosova and Albania. According to the NATO official: "We have strong reason to believe that the UCK forces are moving their arms from the areas they hold in Macedonia. Their final destination is Plav and Gusinje, and the valley of Presevo [in Serbia]."

The head of the local self-administration in Plav, Tahir Gjonbalaj, an ethnic Albanian, insists there are no armed Albanian groups in the Plav region.

Fuad Nimani, the head of a Montenegrin Albanian political party, the Democratic Union of Albanians, said that Albanians are taking an active, peaceful role in developing democracy in Montenegro. "Albanians in Montenegro are participating in the democratic resolution of its status through Montenegro's institutions. Moreover, there is no threat whatsoever to Montenegro's territorial integrity from Kosova or from the Albanians in Macedonia."

Similarly, Montenegro's minister for the defense of the rights of national and ethnic groups, Gezim Hajdinaga -- a leader of the Democratic Union of Albanians -- excludes any possibility of the conflict spreading from Macedonia to Montenegro. He insists that Montenegro's Albanian population -- numbering about 7 percent of the population of 650,000 -- are loyal citizens.

In an interview with the Podgorica daily "Vijesti" on 28 August, Hajdinaga said he has no information whatsoever that Albanian extremists from Kosova are preparing to stage an attack in Montenegro. He, too, denounced the murder-robbery near Plav and called on investigators to find out what really happened. He rejected allegations that the incident constitutes a case of "organized terrorism." And he called on the public to preserve the country's "good and stable relations among nationalities and religions," while promising that "Albanians will push for their goals only in legal institutions."

Meanwhile, Montenegro's ever-weakening relationship with Serbia has shown little sign of improvement.

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said recently that elections cannot be held until Serbia has a new constitution, and that there can be no new constitution "until it is clear whether Serbia will be an independent state or remain part of the [Yugoslav] federation with Montenegro."

Montenegrin and Serbian news media on 27 August quoted Podgorica's Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac as saying that he is halting all contact with the federal Foreign Ministry. He accused it of failing to heed his calls to be pragmatic in relations with Montenegro and desist from creating "difficulties and obstructions" for Montenegro's international activities.

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic responded that Lukovac's decision to break off contact shows that the Montenegrin authorities do not recognize the federal state. Svilanovic said: "It is nothing personal. It's a matter of the position of the Montenegrin government toward the federal authorities."

President Djukanovic met officially on 20 August with his Belgrade government partner and Montenegrin opposition leader, SNP Chairman Predrag Bulatovic, to discuss the "settlement of the future status of Montenegro" and conditions for rapid economic and political reforms. They said that the issue of holding a referendum on secession will be subject to further discussions between their two parties. "We think that there are no conditions for a referendum at present."

Djukanovic's party leads a minority government with the cooperation of six strong pro-independence deputies. After his party failed to garner enough votes in April to elect a majority government, Djukanovic has been more cautious about calling a referendum, fearing it could actually doom Montenegro's chances for independence.

Meanwhile, representatives of the ruling Serbian coalition -- the Democratic Opposition of Serbia -- and the SNP-led group of Montenegrin, pro-Belgrade parties -- Together for Yugoslavia -- have agreed on a plan for the future relationship between Serbia and Montenegro. (Jolyon Naegele)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "One cannot run away from the truth." -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. Quoted by Reuters from Belgrade on 28 August.

"For the problems of Kosovo and Metohija there are no easy solutions but only clever solutions, which require great involvement by the state." -- Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic on 26 August. Quoted by Deutsche Welle Monitor.

"It is necessary that we continue to live together." -- UCK leader Ali Ahmeti. Quoted by AP in Sipkovica on 28 August.

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