A common platform agreed upon at a meeting in Kosovo two days ago between the political leader of ethnic-Albanian fighters in Macedonia and the leaders of the country's two main Albanian political parties has outraged the Macedonian government. It has also embarrassed the international community because the meeting was allegedly facilitated by a former senior U.S. diplomat working for the OSCE. RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegele reports that the meeting is threatening to unhinge Macedonia's fledgling government of national unity.
Prague, 25 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A meeting this week in Kosovo between Ali Ahmeti, the political representative of the ethnic-Albanian fighters' National Liberation Army -- or UCK -- and the chairmen of Macedonia's two main Albanian parties has sent shock waves through the government in Skopje as well as the international community.
It was an OSCE diplomat, Robert Frowick, who allegedly facilitated the Wednesday (May 23) meeting between the UCK's Ahmeti, and Arben Xhaferi and Imer Imeri, the respective chiefs of the Democratic Party of Albanians, or PDSh, and the Party of Democratic Prosperity, or PDP. Frowick, whose title is "personal representative of the OSCE chairman-in-office" for Macedonia, was summoned to Bucharest yesterday to report to his boss, the OSCE's current chairman, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana. He continued to Vienna for meetings today at OSCE headquarters.
Frowick has been a diplomat for almost four decades and an ambassador since the mid-1980s. He was closely connected to the so-called Helsinki Process (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe) in the 1970s and 80s as well as to the OSCE's activities in the Balkans in the 1990s.
At their meeting Wednesday, the three ethnic-Albanian leaders reportedly called for "joint efforts" to change the Macedonian Constitution to provide equal rights to the Albanian community, estimated to comprise from one-quarter to one-third of the country's two million people. The three were also reported to have appealed to Macedonia's new national unity government to declare a cease-fire in the fighting with the UCK and to seek to resolve the crisis by peaceful means.
Reports of the agreement triggered denunciations not only by the Macedonian government, but by the United States, the European Union, NATO, and the OSCE. All agreed there could be no negotiations with the ethnic-Albanian fighters, whom the government calls "terrorists."
Today, Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski characterized the agreement between the UCK's Ahmeti and ethnic-Albanian party leaders Xhaferi and Imeri as an act of war: "This [agreement] means that the [ethnic] Albanians have declared war against the Macedonian people."
Yesterday Georgievski said that the deal means "the Macedonian security forces must defend the country's territories with no mercy."
Yesterday, too, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski urged Xhaferi and Imeri -- whose parties are part of the national unity government -- to renounce the agreement. He said that if they fail to renounce the deal, "it will be impossible to work together."
In response, Xhaferi said he "stands by the [common political] platform" and that he did not act behind the Macedonian government's back. Imeri said the Macedonian government had actually encouraged the two Albanian parties to contact the UCK. He added: "We did it for peace, and peace is very near."
In a statement yesterday, U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Michael Einik rejected "any kind of attempt to bring the so-called UCK into the negotiating process." Einik urged the PDP and the PDSh to renounce their agreement and to demonstrate their sincere commitment to be part of what he called the "legitimate political dialogue that is now under way." Einik concluded: "There should be no accommodations made for violence or violent groups." The OSCE mission in Skopje also issued a statement reaffirming the organization's commitment "to adhere totally to the often-reiterated positions of the international community that ethnic-Albanian armed groups calling themselves the UCK do not have any legal status and in the present situation cannot be considered as partners in a political dialogue."
The OSCE representative in Skopje, Carlo Ungaro, yesterday said that Frowick had been "acting on his own" and not on behalf of the 55-member organization. The Macedonian-language press quoted unnamed officials as saying Frowick is no longer welcome in Macedonia. Diplomats in Vienna tell RFE/RL that the veteran diplomat's career with the OSCE in Macedonia is finished.
According to a Kosovo Albanian TV station KTV the accord reiterates ethnic-Albanian demands for amendments to the Macedonian Constitution that would grant equal rights to the Albanian community. The TV report said the agreement spells out, as conditions for peace, "the use of the Albanian language as one of the official languages in Macedonia, the expansion of local government competencies, the full secularization of the constitution, the establishment of a consensual democracy on issues relating to national [that is, ethnic] interests, and the right to free communication in Albanian cultural areas."
The same report says that Ahmeti, Xhaferi, and Imeri agreed to cooperate to "reform the Republic of Macedonia into a democratic state for all its citizens and all national [ethnic] communities." They said they reached consensus on the need "to preserve the integrity and the multiethnic character of Macedonia," noting that there are no ethnic or territorial solutions for Macedonia's problems.
The report also said the men warned that any attempt to redistribute territories along ethnic lines would harm Macedonian citizens and peace in the region. The declaration was reported to have flatly stated: "There are no military solutions for the problems in Macedonia." The document was said to conclude by referring to the possibility of integrating demobilized UCK fighters into civilian society, including government posts.
But politicians and diplomats in Skopje say that the agreement called for the UCK to stop fighting in exchange for an amnesty guaranteed by the two Albanian parties in the government coalition. PDSh and PDP politicians insist they had received the tacit approval of ethnic-Macedonian government parties to reach the deal with the UCK. But the Macedonian parties have expressed outrage, alleging the talks were held without their knowledge.
Just what role Frowick actually played is far from clear. He appears to have tried to urge Xhaferi and Imeri to persuade the UCK to stop fighting and resolve differences with the Macedonians politically.
At a news conference in Skopje a week ago, Frowick told reporters that he had been engaged in intensive consultations with Xhaferi, the PDP leadership, Kosovar Albanian political leaders Ibrahim Rugova, Hashim Thaci, Ramush Haradinaj, and General Agim Ceku -- the head of Kosovo's home army -- and Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta. He said these talks were aimed at persuading the UCK "that it is time to stop the armed struggle."
At the time, Frowick accused the UCK's leadership of "defying this search for peace with justice" and of speaking in support of political reforms, while "stubbornly refusing to pull back from armed confrontation."
In an ironic twist, Frowick concluded: "Let me convey a message to Ali Ahmeti: the ethnic-Albanian insurgents must choose now, at this pivotal moment, between the pathway to peace with justice or continuing its present course toward an escalating war. Only by choosing peace, and pursuing political objectives through political dialogue, can the door to progress and legitimacy be opened."
Some Macedonian cabinet members have demanded the resignations of Xhaferi and Imeri as a result of their talks with Ahmeti. Both have rejected the calls, but aides say that Xhaferi -- who is suffering from Parkinson's disease -- is likely to quit his post as party chairman within a month.