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Macedonia: Key U.S. Senator Favors Greater NATO Role In Conflict

By Asta Banionis and Frank T. Csongos

A U.S. Senate panel held a hearing on Wednesday to examine the fighting in Macedonia and what the U.S. and its NATO allies should do about it. There were calls for greater military involvement in the conflict.

Washington, 14 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- An influential U.S. senator says the United States must increase its involvement in Macedonia in helping to forge a political settlement there.

Democratic Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says President George W. Bush should consider appointing a special envoy to Macedonia. The Balkan country's government is combating ethnic Albanian fighters.

Biden said during a committee hearing on 13 June that only the U.S. has the military and political credibility with all ethnic groups to successfully resolve the crisis in the Balkans.

Biden said NATO peacekeepers should be inserted into Macedonia. He said past history has shown that nothing gets done in the Balkans without a show of force.

Bush said earlier today at NATO headquarters in Brussels that the conflict in Macedonia should be settled by political means. Bush said:

"The idea of committing (NATO) troops within Macedonia was one that most nations were troubled over. They want to see if we cannot achieve a political settlement first."

Retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, NATO commander during the 1999 war in Kosovo, said at the senate hearing that NATO troops in neighboring Kosovo should move into northern Macedonia, where Macedonian troops have been fighting guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (UCK).

Clark said in prepared testimony that Southeastern Europe is not a "quagmire and America's efforts there will not lead to a Vietnam War-type situation. He said former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic would still be in office today if NATO had not stopped him in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

The retired general said it is now time for NATO to act again -- this time to halt the fighting in Macedonia and this will again require American leadership. He said the Western alliance must also persevere and not leave behind friends such as Montenegro, whose support for NATO was severely tested by Belgrade's pressure.

Opinions varied in the hearing on the rights and wrongs of the Macedonian conflict, in which the guerrillas are demanding an end to discrimination against the ethnic Albanian minority, which makes up between 25 percent and one-third of the country's population.

Biden, who has visited the Balkans many times, said he did not have the impression that Slavic Macedonian leaders in Macedonia were prepared to make "the basic concessions needed."

North Carolina Republican Senator Jesse Helms, a former chairman of the committee, acknowledged ethnic Albanian grievances but called the guerrillas "terrorists."