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Western Press Review: Macedonia High On Commentators' Agenda

Prague, 27 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A number of commentaries in our survey today of Western press opinion focus on the government-Albanian fighting in Macedonia. There is little consensus.


The "Washington Post" says in an editorial that Macedonia's weekend military offensive against Albanian fighters in the hills comprises a worsening of the situation. The editorial implies that U.S. apathy bears some of the blame.

The newspaper says: "As the [U.S.] administration [of President George W.] Bush looked on from a distance, the latest crisis in the Balkans took another turn for the worse on Sunday. Facing an ethnic Albanian guerrilla force several hundred strong, the ethnic-Slav-dominated government of Macedonia rejected appeals for negotiations and restraint and instead launched a military offensive against the Albanian-populated villages where the insurgents are based. The government of President Boris Trajkovski apparently hoped it could wipe out the rebel movement before it had a chance to take hold in the country's northwestern mountains; its spokesmen claimed that it had overrun several rebel positions in its initial attack. But the resort to force seems no more likely to help Macedonia than it has the other Yugoslav republics that have been decimated by a decade of ethnic warfare."


The "Christian Science Monitor" takes almost a polar opposite stance. Its editorial says: "America and Europe should appreciate how quickly and how well they've dealt with the latest violence in the Balkans. Just a decade ago, when former Yugoslavia was descending into ethnic violence, the West was fumbling and hesitant."

The editorial continues: "Now, with the flare-up of fighting in Macedonia, this newspaper can report scenes like this: A U.S. Army platoon leader patrolling the hills between Kosovo and Macedonia says he's equipped to stop any Albanian rebels: 'We have night vision. We have thermal imaging. We have soldiers out in the country day and night. We see people all the time. We stop them and search them. We're quite adept at finding people out here.'"

The newspaper goes on: "If that level of military engagement by NATO had existed in the early 1990s, when the West was still trying to figure out how to act in the post-Cold-War world, tens of thousands of people might not have been lost to ethnic cleansing and massacres. But after two wars in the region, NATO now has 42,000 troops in Kosovo, and another 22,000 in Bosnia."

It concludes: "And despite the reluctance by the Bush administration to make any more commitments to the Balkans, the U.S. nonetheless has quickly given diplomatic and military support to Macedonia's government to help it fight off a small Albanian insurgency."


From Paris, "Le Monde" commentator Daniel Verne writes: "If the ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia thought they could repeat the successes of the Kosovo Liberation Army in Kosovo, they erred. Perhaps they believed that they could attract international sympathy by denouncing the discrimination -- real enough -- of which they are the objects, and by so doing -- as happened two years ago [in Kosovo] -- provoking an intervention on their behalf in the name of minority rights."


From today's "International Herald Tribune," brief excerpts from three other commentaries, all specialist-contributors, follow:

International relations professor David L. Phillips writes: "Western politicians have little appreciation for the endemic nature of the conflict unfolding in the southern Balkans. It was folly for former President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia to think he could suppress the rebellion in Kosovo. It is equally ill-advised for NATO to permit Yugoslav army forces to patrol the buffer zone in southern Serbia or to think that the dilapidated Macedonian army can stop the rebels. Moreover, NATO is misguided in believing it can effectively seal Kosovo's borders and interdict weapons transfers. These measures will not keep the war from spreading. The border zones are remote mountainous regions known only to the Albanians living there."

Greek politician Costas Karamanlis: "The activities of extremist Albanian guerrilla forces in Macedonia remind us all of the long way left to travel to reach a permanent, lasting and peaceful state of affairs in this troubled region. Greece has long maintained that the inviolability of existing borders is the top priority toward that effort. Moreover, it has strongly advocated that democratization and political as well as economic reforms are the key to a peaceful and prosperous future for the Balkans. [And] Greece, a close neighbor of Macedonia, wants a more tangible display of resolve from the international community toward fighting ethnic terrorism."

Kosovar-Albanian editor Veton Surroi: "Ethnic Macedonians and Albanians will increasingly see this present conflict as a clash where they have to protect their ethnicity. And the conflict will be feeding itself, up to the point where there is only one solution left, that of territorially dividing Macedonians and Albanians.

"Macedonia has escaped from war until now, thanks to an inter-ethnic agreement, a policy of a democratic evolution, and strategic international support. It is these three factors, not its weak army and police, that have preserved Macedonia's territorial integrity. And it cannot maintain that integrity unless it uses these same factors in new conditions."


Writing in the "Frankfurter Rundschau," Rolf Paasch in Tetovo dismisses what his commentary's headline calls "The Macedonian -- Propaganda -- Offensive." He writes: "Assurances from the Macedonian government that its army has retaken several Albanian villages around Tetovo are at best exaggerated. The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA/or UCK) is, after all, still operating behind the first village, Gajre, as if the major offensive by government troops had never happened. It took the KLA three attempts to find a way past the road blocks put up by the Macedonian army through the valley towards Shipkovica. They eventually found a path to the right of the Orthodox church on the edge of Tetovo -- from where Macedonian soldiers had fired on Albanian sharpshooters during the offensive on Sunday -- and to the left of the hill leading up to Gajre village, whose recapture the government in Skopje had celebrated as a victory over the KLA fighters. Television pictures broadcast the world over show images of destroyed houses, scared residents, and dead cattle. But just one kilometer below and beyond Gajre, KLA territory begins."