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Macedonia: Unity Government Takes 'Step In Right Direction'

Macedonia's leaders have agreed to form a unity government that includes all major ethnic Albanian and Slav parties -- including the two main opposition parties, the Slav-dominated Socialists and the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity. RFE/RL correspondent Alexandra Poolos spoke with a Balkan affairs analyst to get his view on the unity government's prospects for reducing violence between Macedonian authorities and ethnic Albanian fighters.

Prague, 8 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- After six days of renewed fighting with ethnic Albanian insurgents, Macedonia's government and main opposition parties today agreed to form a government of national unity.

Government spokesman Antonio Milososki said the agreement will bring the opposition Social Democrats and the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity into the government. It will thus have the backing of more than 100 of the 110 members of parliament.

The formation of a national unity government was urged yesterday by visiting NATO Secretary-General George Robertson and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana. The two officials were in Skopje to press Macedonia to put off plans to declare a state of war in their battle against ethnic Albanian fighters.

Our correspondent spoke with Mark Thompson, a Balkan affairs analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. Thompson calls the creation of a unity government a "step in the right direction."

"Since the violence around Tetovo, it would almost certainly be impossible for the political coalition currently forming the government to mobilize, or to undertake a process of reforms which underlie this violence or are the backdrop of this violence by themselves, without bringing in the main opposition parties. So this is certainly good news."

But Thompson says that including ethnic Albanian parties in the government is not a guarantee of success -- only a precondition of success. He says that calming the violence in Macedonia will depend on assuring that ethnic Albanian politicians are the true representatives of their community:

"The question is how can the initiative be wrested back from this, after all, few hundred or thousand or so rebels, to the elected representatives of the Albanian community -- so that they actually have the initiative in addressing the legitimate problems and complaints of the Albanians in Macedonia."

Thompson says that most ethnic Albanians are passively watching the rebels in their fight against government forces. So far, he says, they have not chosen to actively support them.

"So far the vast majority of Macedonian Albanians are watching from the sidelines. They're not committed in this. And it's vital that they should not be committed in this -- by this -- guerilla rebel action. That's one of the intentions of the rebel action -- to try and win over significant support from the Macedonian Albanian community. Not just passive interest and tolerance of their message about fighting for rights, but actual support."

Thompson says that the unity government must be forged immediately to bridge the differences between Macedonian Slavs and Albanians. Otherwise, Thompson says, more ethnic Albanians will be encouraged to support the rebels, who he says operate under what he calls "shared delusions."

"There is a delusion of being able to change borders, of being able to realize some archaic vision of pan-Albanian unity. We don't think that is a vision that is at all widely shared in the Macedonian Albanian community. And it would be tragic if there were to be an escalation and a radicalization now, as a result of violence, which would lead large numbers of the Albanian community in Macedonia to be mobilized to dreams of separatism."

Thompson also says that the government needs to change its military strategy from what he describes a "trigger-happy" one to one that is more pragmatic. Shelling ethnic Albanian villages, he says, will only work to alienate the community.