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Macedonian President Feared Dead After Plane Crash

Skopje, 26 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski is feared dead after his plane crashed in the mountains of Herzegovina today.

Land mines, heavy fog, and rain are hampering efforts to locate the wreckage of the twin-engine propeller plane.

Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski said it was likely that Trajkovski and the other eight people on board the plane had all died.

Officers with the NATO-led Stabilization Force in Bosnia said an air search was called off as night fell but troops and police were still combing the area on foot.

"At about 9:00 this morning, [our] radar lost control of an aircraft," a Bosnian Serb Interior Ministry spokesman said, speaking from Herzegovina. "Local police said a blast was heard in the mountainous region between the southwestern town of Stolac and the village of Ljubinje. The weather conditions were very bad with heavy fog and rain."

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who as head of the rotating EU Presidency was hosting an important Macedonian delegation, announced in Dublin on 26 February that Trajkovski was feared dead that morning in a plane crash in Herzegovina, Reuters reported.

Macedonian officials said Trajkovski was flying to the Bosnian city of Mostar on an official executive jet to attend an economic conference when the plane disappeared near Stolac, some 40 kilometers from Mostar.

The others presumed dead with the 47-year-old Trajkovski were his staffers Dimka Ilkova Boskovic, Risto Blazevski, Anita Krista Lozanska, and Mile Krstevski, as well as two bodyguards and two crew members, dpa reported.

At the time of the crash, Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski and other members of an official delegation were in Dublin to present the Irish EU Presidency with Macedonia's application for EU membership (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2004). Upon receiving news of the crash, the Macedonian delegation prepared to return home immediately, without presenting the application.

Force For Stability

The death of Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski would remove from the scene a leader widely regarded as a factor for stability. It is not immediately clear who would succeed him, or what the impact would be on Macedonian politics.

Elected president in 1999, Trajkovski was widely regarded as a strong advocate of Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic integration and of the 2001 Ohrid agreement. That deal was brokered by the United States and the EU, ending a conflict between the security forces of the ethnic Macedonian majority and the insurgents of the ethnic Albanian minority, which makes up about one-fourth of the population.

Although his political roots were in the conservative and nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), he was considered a moderate and was often at odds with the hard-line party leadership. An additional factor that set him apart from many ethnic Macedonian politicians was the fact that he was a member of the United Methodist Church and not Orthodox.

One of his recurrent messages following the signing of the Ohrid agreement was that Macedonia and the Balkans continue to have serious problems even though they have dropped out of the headlines. He told a meeting at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters on 21 November 2002 during the NATO summit that "the Balkan region today still is not safe, it is not yet a place of decent life. We are surrounded by a large arsenal of weapons, and a large number of people who are getting rich through smuggling, corruption, and murder" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002).

In Strasbourg on 8 April 2003, he warned against continuing threats to peace and stability: "We need to continue our efforts to strengthen the rule of law and fight against organized crime and corruption. We need to refocus our attention to deal more effectively with issues of economic and social cohesion. And we need to work on the realization of the vision of a Europe, not just for states, but also for its citizens, enabling free movement of the citizens of the western Balkans across the borders of the European Union."

At RFE/RL headquarters during the NATO summit, he also stressed the importance of regional cooperation, specifically with Albania and Croatia: "The participation in today's meeting with my friends, Albanian President Alfred Moisiu and Croatian President Stipe Mesic, creates the opportunity for our three countries to work more closely and more intensively than in the past towards getting into NATO by discussing basic elements which could be included in our joint efforts to be admitted into NATO." Indeed, the three presidents and other officials of their respective countries continued to meet regularly to discuss these and other issues.

Whoever succeeds Trajkovski will have a full agenda in promoting Macedonia's social, economic, and interethnic stability; working to counter the polarization that characterizes much of the political life of the region; and promoting the Euro-Atlantic integration of what was one of the former Yugoslavia's poorest republics.

Click here for a biography of Trajkovski.