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Macedonia: New Unity Government Unlikely To Bring Peace

Macedonia's parliament has overwhelmingly approved a national unity government that includes all the main Macedonian and Albanian parties. RFE/RL correspondent Alexandra Poolos speaks to an area analyst about whether the new coalition can bring an end to the country's worsening interethnic conflict.

Prague, 14 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Macedonia's new government of national unity, approved yesterday by the parliament, today began its first full day of work. It includes representatives of all the county's major ethnic Albanian parties.

Six Albanian and Macedonian Slav parties agreed to join the broad coalition. In the 110-member parliament, 102 deputies yesterday voted for the new government.

Last week, at the urging of NATO and EU officials hoping to prevent an escalation of violence, the Macedonian government began seriously considering the option of a national unity government.

A key ethnic Albanian party, the opposition Party for Democratic Prosperity, initially balked at joining the coalition. The party had insisted on a cease-fire in the government's offensive against ethnic Albanian fighters rebels in the hills just north of Skopje.

But Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, who will retain his post in the new government, refused to stop the offensive. In comments today, Georgievski said the noose was "tightening" on the fighters.

Fighting has subsided in the past two days. But over the past week, government forces have used mortars, tanks, and helicopter gunships to attack a number of rebel positions along the Kosovo border. So far, however, the Macedonian army has refrained from moving into mountain villages, where the risk of civilian casualties is higher.

The EU today welcomed the new coalition government, urging its members to use the opportunity to establish peace. But Zoran Kusovac, a Rome-based analyst with "Jane's Defence Weekly," says the new government is unlikely to improve the situation in Macedonia:

"While it is a good thing in that it shows a certain commitment by the major parties -- two on the ethnic Macedonian [side] and two on the ethnic Albanian [side] -- it will also create new problems. Macedonia -- although it has been democratic in the sense that it has included its minorities in the parliament -- is not really a place where the transmission from the government is very democratic. That means it is still a very old-fashioned, Eastern type of place where every new government tries to replace as many civil servants [as possible] with people loyal to the new government."

Kusovac says the change of government will most likely result in a further splintering of power:

"Now it will be much more difficult because it is not two players any longer, it is four players. The two Macedonian parties are very bitter rivals and the two ethnic Albanian parties are very bitter rivals, so they will not necessarily cooperate with each other. So the power-splitting will be even more minute."

A major challenge facing the new government is invigorating the country's sagging economy. The collapse of communism and the breakup of Yugoslavia eliminated markets that had been the mainstay of Macedonia's farmers and manufacturers.

The 1999 war in neighboring Kosovo also served to choke off investment. And, according to Kusovac, the sale of state-owned companies made a few wealthy at the expense of thousands who were fired in the drive to move to a market economy. The country's official unemployment rate now stands at 40 percent.

The ethnic Albanian fighters have so far failed to enlist many Albanian civilians in their insurgency. But Kusovac says that high unemployment is a perfect breeding ground for radicalism:

"Unemployment and the general sense of misery are very good grounds for any kind of radicals. We have had, so far, Albanian radicals taking up arms in small numbers. Then we have had the responses from Macedonian radicals, burning Albanian property, looting their shops, in small numbers. Most of the people who do these things are recruited from among the unemployed. And the government can't address the economy very quickly. So it will have to come up with a replacement for the basic problem."

Kusovac says finding a way out of the country's economic problems will be a long process. He says the new government should therefore seek to quell the insurgency by amending the constitution to grant ethnic Albanians greater rights. Any changes, he adds, should be made quickly.