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Macedonia: NATO's Robertson, EU's Solana Heading For Skopje

Brussels. 2 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Both the European Union and NATO today said they would be sending high-level delegations to Macedonia in the coming days to demonstrate their support for greater political dialogue between Macedonia's Slav majority and its ethnic Albanian minority.

The visits were announced today in Brussels by the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana and NATO's Secretary-General Lord George Robertson after a joint meeting of EU and NATO ambassadors. Solana said he was leaving for Skopje today. Robertson will follow tomorrow (3 April) for a two-day visit of both Macedonia and Kosovo, heading a delegation of 19 NATO ambassadors.

The joint meeting of EU and NATO ambassadors in Brussels this morning was the third of its kind. The purpose of the meetings is to streamline security and political cooperation between the two organizations. So far events in the Balkans have dominated each meeting.

Speaking after today's meeting, Robertson said there would be no duplication of efforts by either NATO or the EU. He said the consultations both delegations hold with Macedonian leaders would be complementary.

He said both NATO and the EU would be sending the same message to political leaders in the region.

"That message is that in a democracy a political route forward is the only way forward and in this context an intensified and broad political dialogue among all democratic parties is critical and must be pursued urgently."

Nevertheless, Robertson said international efforts to assist Macedonia must be carefully coordinated. He warned that Skopje's skies risk being "darkened" by the arrival of numerous envoys.

As the EU still has no military capabilities, NATO is clearly in charge of securing the border between Kosovo and Macedonia to prevent ethnic Albanian insurgents from bringing in fighters and arms. According to Robertson, KFOR's attempts to secure the border have met with some success and several suspected fighters have been arrested.

The EU, on the other hand, remains the most important donor of aid to Macedonia, having given 40 million euros (about $36 million) so far this year.

The EU is also dangling the promise of greater political integration before Macedonia. For this to happen, Solana said today, the EU expects greater political and economic reforms from Macedonia, and specifically, improvements in how inter-ethnic relations are managed.

He said the EU welcomed talks called by Macedonia's President Boris Trajkovski among all Macedonia's main parties aimed at reaching a political solution. Neither he nor Robertson, however, was ready to comment on whether they thought Macedonia needs to change its constitution to bolster the rights of the Albanian population.

Solana said the EU attaches great importance to next week's (9 April) signing of a Stability and Association Agreement with Macedonia -- the first of its kind between the Union and a Balkan country. Solana said he hoped to see the representatives of both the Slavic and Albanian communities at the signing ceremony in Luxembourg.

However, leaders of Albanian parties in Macedonia have indicated their presence would depend on whether the talks between the leaders of Macedonia's Slavs and Albanians yield satisfactory results.

Both George Robertson and Javier Solana also said today that they welcomed the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade over the weekend.

Although Robertson and Solana said they were confident Milosevic would eventually be brought before the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, both were at pains to distance their organizations from any decision as to how and when this should take place. They said the decision would be a matter for the tribunal and Yugoslavia's government to decide.