A stalemate is developing on the eighth day of renewed fighting between ethnic Albanian fighters and Macedonian security forces near the border with Serbia. Correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports that a commander of the insurgent National Liberation Army last night called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis in a telephone interview with RFE/RL.
Prague, 10 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The fighting in and around the villages northwest of Kumanovo in the eastern foothills of the Skopje Black Mountains has developed into a routine.
The government regularly announces a morning cease-fire from five to ten o'clock to enable civilians to flee -- although few, if any, in recent days have come out. About an hour after the temporary cease-fire ends, the Macedonian army begins firing its tank cannons and other artillery, mainly in the direction of Vaksince, Slupcane, Orizare, and three other villages. Ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army, or UCK, fire back with light weapons.
The Macedonian army says its operations are against what it calls "selective targets," which it describes as "ethnic Albanian terrorist positions." "The Washington Post" yesterday quoted the (unnamed) mayor of one of the six besieged villages as saying that 15 people had been killed as of Tuesday (May 8). But the International Red Cross says it has documented only two fatalities.
Defense Ministry spokesman Gjorgji Trendafilov said in Kumanovo yesterday: "From the very start of the operation we have been aware of the civilian presence, and fire only at strictly selected legitimate targets." He added that "all of this reduces the efficiency and speed of the operation in the field."
Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski today told reporters in Skopje that, except for the daily five-hour break for civilians, "there will be no long-term cease-fire."
But an UCK commander who goes by the name "Sokoli" says the time has come for a diplomatic solution to end the violence.
"We also favor resolving the crisis by diplomatic means. But so far the Macedonian government has not demonstrated the good will needed to resolve the crisis through democratic means rather than by bombing civilians, bombing Albanian villages, bombing everything that is Albanian."
Sokoli dismisses the government's claims of selective targeting and regular cease-fires. Moreover, he suggests a humanitarian disaster is in the making.
"The fighting continues and has not ceased for even a moment. We are maintaining our positions. The situation of the civil population is very bad. There is hardly a house in the villages of Slupcane, Vaksince, and Orizare that has not been shelled."
Sokoli says there is a growing danger of an epidemic erupting in the area. In the interview, he called on humanitarian organizations to visit the embattled villages.
As a result of the continued fighting, attempts to form a broad coalition government of national unity have stalled. One of the country's two main Albanian parties, the Party for Democratic Prosperity -- or PDP -- says a coalition government is out of the question as long as villages are being shelled.
Commander Sokoli's view is similar to that of the PDP.
"As long as the [government security forces] are shelling Albanian villages, I do not see any chance of forming a coalition government."
Prime Minister Georgievski said today he has told PDP leaders this is their last chance to join the national unity government and that he intends to proceed with talks on forming a broad coalition regardless of the party's stand.
Skopje dailies reported today that the country's respected foreign minister, Srdjan Kerim, is expected to keep his post in the new government. Parliament Speaker Stojan Andov, a holdover from the days of communist Yugoslavia, is resigning.
(RFE/RL's Albanian Unit conducted the interview with Sokoli.)