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Macedonia: U.S., Russia To Cooperate For Stability

U.S. President George W. Bush says it is in the interests of both Washington and Moscow to defuse the Macedonian crisis through political means. Bush says prolonged violence in Macedonia could destabilize the region. He says Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed similar views at the Slovenian summit and that the two countries are ready to work together in promoting stability in Macedonia.

Washington, 19 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- President George W. Bush says the United States is ready to cooperate with Russia in working toward a stable Macedonia.

Bush said at the White House on Monday that a fractured Macedonia would create instability in the region. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the Balkans and other issues during their meeting in Slovenia last Saturday.

Bush said: "We strongly believe we need to shut off the border between Kosovo and Macedonia. As a matter of fact, our troops that participate in KFOR [NATO-led peacekeeping troops in Kosovo] are doing just that. President Putin also believes that we ought to all work together to achieve a political solution." At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said that, for the most part, Macedonian government troops and ethnic Albanians seem to be respecting a cease-fire.

"[The] Cease-fire appears to be holding despite some low-level skirmishes. We've strongly supported the cease-fire. We think it's necessary to provide the essential atmosphere for the political dialogue to succeed." On Sunday, government forces and rebels traded sporadic gunfire near the village of Aracinovo, a rebel stronghold on the outskirts of the capital, Skopje. Macedonian forces fired several mortars in retaliation. There was no word on casualties.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Mircea Geoana, urged a compromise to prevent a further escalation of violence.

State Department spokesman Boucher said the Skopje government has not asked for NATO troops to police Macedonia.

"NATO and NATO countries all along want to be very helpful to [Macedonian] President Boris Trajkovski in terms of calming the situation, achieving peace, reforming political processes. At this point President Trajkovski said he was looking for the help of NATO or NATO countries to further assist in this matter including, as he put it, [assistance] in overseeing the voluntary disarmament."

In addition to the cease-fire, a peace proposal drafted by Trajkovski gives amnesty for most rebels who disarm voluntarily and offers the minority ethnic Albanians positions in state bodies and institutions. Trajkovski's plan also includes the removal of references to ethnicity or religion from the constitution and adding Albanian as a state language.

Branko Crvenkovski, a leader of Macedonia's Social Democrats and a key ally of Trajkovski, accused ethnic Albanian negotiators of making "unacceptable demands," including a request for a veto over all government decisions and the creation of a vice presidential post -- a job that would be allocated to an ethnic Albanian.