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Yugoslavia: Witnesses Say Albanians Don't Back Fighting In Macedonia, Kosovo

Witnesses tell the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe that a majority of ethnic Albanians in the Balkans do not support the fighting in Macedonia and Kosovo. Our correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports.

Washington, 30 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Three people with direct experience in the Balkans have told the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe that the majority of ethnic Albanians do not support the cause of fellow Albanians fighting in Macedonia and Kosovo.

They say the fighting in the region has been caused by only a few ethnic Albanians. And one says the fighting in Macedonia was exported from Kosovo by people whom he described as "extremists" who are bitter about losing last October's municipal elections in the Yugoslav province.

The witnesses were General Joseph Ralston, the supreme allied commander in Europe for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); James Pardew, a senior U.S. presidential adviser for Kosovo and Bosnia; and Daan Everts, head of the Kosovo mission for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). They testified Thursday (28 March) before the U.S. Commission in Washington.

Everts told the hearing that the trouble in both Kosovo and now in Macedonia is probably rooted in Kosovo's uncertain future. In Kosovo, he said, ethnic Serbs fear one extreme outcome -- that the province eventually will be dominated by Albanians. And ethnic Albanians, on the other extreme, fear it will revert to domination by Serbs. Now this tension has been "exported" -- as he put it -- to Macedonia.

But Everts and the other two witnesses stressed that the ethnic Albanians fighting in Macedonia and Kosovo do not reflect the will of most Albanians in the region. Pardew expressed it this way.

"Unfortunately, a small number of Albanian extremists have taken up arms to forcibly promote their political agenda in Macedonia and southern Serbia at the expense of the majority of moderate Albanians."

According to Everts, ethnic Albanian extremists are bitter that they lost Kosovo's municipal elections last autumn and are exporting their violence to Macedonia.

But Everts stressed that their loss in the Kosovo elections demonstrates that they do not have the support of the majority of ethnic Albanians in the province. They and the rebels in Macedonia draw most of their support from outside -- particularly from the Albanian diaspora -- those Albanians who have moved out of the Balkans altogether.

"It's always easy to be far away and encourage rebellious activities. As you know, it's quite comfortable if you sit in Switzerland, and all you have to do is send some money."

Not all the testimony at Thursday's hearing was so bleak. Ralston -- the NATO commander -- spoke highly of the Kosovo Police Academy, administered by the OSCE. He said the school has been training about 300 local police officers each month, and the force now is made up of more than 3,100 officers.

Ralston said he could not overestimate the importance of the force. He said it not only brings order to an province once characterized by chaos, but it also allows his NATO troops to spend more time on military matters rather than civil policing.

"And this is something that I think is a success story and that we need to keep moving on [supporting]."

But despite such expressions of optimism, all three witnesses were careful to say that the troubles in Kosovo are far from over. And Ralston said it is important for the U.S. and its NATO allies to be aware that the fighting in Macedonia could eventually get out of hand.

Both Everts and Pardew agreed that the most important mission is building trust between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs. Until that is accomplished, they said, the fighting will persist indefinitely.