The European Union's security and foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, is visiting Skopje today in an attempt to keep a political crisis within Macedonia's multiethnic government from growing into civil war. The visit comes after the two main ethnic Albanian political parties in the government angered other coalition members last week by conducting secret talks with ethnic Albanian fighters.
Prague, 28 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A visit to Skopje today by European Union foreign-policy chief Javier Solana comes amid reports that Macedonia's broad-based coalition government is on the verge of disintegration.
Solana's spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach, told RFE/RL today that Solana would attempt to keep the so-called national unity coalition together. If the political crisis is not resolved, it could push the country to the brink of a civil war.
"The objective of the trip is to express support for the government of national unity which was formed about two weeks ago -- in particular, in the current difficult political and security situation. [Mr. Solana also] will urge an early resumption of the interethnic dialogue."
Macedonia's national unity government is comprised of all the elected parties in parliament -- including ethnic Albanian and Macedonian Slav parties that had been in opposition until earlier this month. The unity coalition was formed at the urging of the European Union and NATO as a way to prevent fighting with ethnic Albanian extremists from turning into a civil war.
The idea is to resolve the complaints of inequality raised by many ethnic Albanians in Macedonia through an interethnic dialogue that includes all of the parties legitimately elected to parliament.
Earlier this spring, Solana and NATO Secretary-General George Robertson made a series of visits to Skopje to convince the previous government that a coalition comprised of all parliamentary parties would help isolate the extremists.
The Macedonian Slav parties in the unity coalition were furious when press reports revealed that the leaders of the ethnic-Albanian parties had traveled secretly to Kosovo last Wednesday (23 May) for talks with Ali Ahmeti, a political representative of the extremist fighters.
Some reports said the leaders of both ethnic Albanian parties -- Arben Xhaferi and Imer Imeri -- had agreed to a cease-fire with the extremists in exchange for allowing them to veto any decision by the unity government that might harm their interests.
Xhaferi and Imeri met yesterday with the U.S. ambassador to Macedonia, Michael Einik, to discuss the agreement. Although no details from that meeting have been revealed, U.S. officials have publicly urged the two to renounce the deal. So far, both have refused to do so.
Solana's agenda today includes meetings with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, as well as the ministers of defense and foreign affairs. Significantly, Solana also plans to meet the leaders of all political parties that are represented in parliament and that comprise the national unity government.
Spokeswoman Gallach told RFE/RL that Solana's meetings with Macedonia's ethnic-Albanian political leadership would focus on the issue of their talks with the extremists. She hinted that Solana also would urge Xhaferi and Imeri to renounce their deal with Ahmeti as a way to keep the unity government from disintegrating.
"Mr. Solana will be addressing all the latest developments. The European Union already made clear its position regarding any possible deals with the extremists. The framework to proceed with reforms, and with an interethnic dialogue, has to be the framework of the national unity government -- between all of the members of the political parties represented in the parliament."
After his meetings in Skopje, Solana is due to travel to Budapest for a series of meetings tomorrow with ministers from NATO countries and the EU. Gallach says Solana will brief those ministers about the latest developments in the Macedonian crisis.
"Immediately afterward, he's going to travel to Hungary, where he will be attending the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the ministerial level. That meeting is going to be followed by another meeting of ministers of the European Union and NATO. They will be discussing the situation in the Balkans, the situation in Macedonia. So Mr. Solana will be informing the ministers about the latest events." Even as Solana was boarding his plane in Brussels this morning for the flight to Skopje, Macedonian forces were intensifying their offensive against ethnic-Albanian extremists who have fortified themselves in a series of villages just south of the border with Kosovo.
Macedonian army spokesman Blagoja Markovski announced today that the extremists had been driven from the village of Matejce -- about 15 kilometers south of the Kosovo border. Control of that village by government troops effectively cuts an escape route for the militants along a tiny road that leads south into a mountain range known as Skopska Crna Gora.
At the same time, government troops are continuing to use artillery, tanks, and helicopter gunships against extremists in the nearby villages of Otlja, Lipkovo, Slupcane, and Vaksince. Yesterday, reinforcements of government ground-troops were transported in busses and armored personnel carriers to the outskirts of those villages.