NATO is warning that Macedonia is close to civil war after yesterday's breakdown in talks between Skopje's main political parties over how to resolve the country's interethnic crisis.
Prague, 21 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy and security chief, is again visiting Macedonia today in an effort to prevent the collapse of peace talks among the country's elected political parties.
Solana had originally intended to return to Skopje tomorrow. He hastily moved forward his trip after Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski announced yesterday that the peace negotiations had broken down.
Trajkovski accused ethnic Albanian political leaders of trying to block the talks in the hope that the international community would intervene and support their demands for constitutional changes. Trajkovski says such changes would open the way for the eventual division of Macedonia into separate ethnic nations.
Speaking in Brussels before he left for Skopje today, Solana confirmed that ethnic Albanian negotiators may be demanding constitutional changes that go too far:
"It is true that the proposals of the Albanians have been in the direction that may be going too far in the transformation and modification of the constitution. But this is part of the dialogue. This is part of the negotiation. And I think that the dialogue and the negotiation should continue. That is the way in which we are going to find a solution to the problem."
In particular, ethnic Albanian negotiators are seeking a permanent Albanian representative in the government who would have the power to veto decisions made by parliament and the cabinet.
Macedonian politicians oppose such a move. They also oppose demands that Albanian be made an official second language, and that the ethnic Albanian community be elevated to the status of a constitutive nation.
Cedomir Kraljevski, a negotiator for Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski's VMRO-DPMNE party, says that the ethnic Albanians want to take irreversible steps toward the federalization of Macedonia. Ultimately, he says, that would mean independence for the western and northern parts of the country, where large numbers of ethnic Albanians live.
Both NATO and the EU oppose any peace plan that would carve Macedonia up into ethnic nations.
NATO yesterday announced it would send 3,000 to 5,000 troops on a 30-day mission to help disarm ethnic Albanian extremists once a peace accord is reached.
But NATO Secretary-General George Robertson underlined that alliance forces would not set up lines of demarcation or be involved in the partitioning of territory:
"NATO's promised assistance with disarmament of the armed groups can only happen on the basis of political agreement and a durable cease-fire. So I urge all of the political parties to find a solution to the present impasse. There is an urgent need to get agreement and to move forward with the peace plan that was endorsed by all of the political parties in the Macedonian parliament."
Robertson warned that the situation in Macedonia could deteriorate into a civil war unless agreement on a peace plan is reached quickly.
Both the ethnic Albanian fighters and government forces have called a temporary cease-fire that has been in place for 10 days. But the cease-fire, due to expire next Wednesday (27 June), has been punctuated by almost daily clashes around the northern villages that are controlled by the fighters.
There are new concerns today about whether the cease-fire can last another week after the killing of two ethnic Albanian civilians last night by a government artillery barrage on the northern village of Slupcane.
The EU has set 25 June as the deadline for achieving substantial movement toward a peace accord. Officials in Brussels want to see progress on the issue of rewording the preamble to the constitution, a particularly sensitive question for ethnic Albanians. They also want agreement on the terms of an amnesty for fighters who surrender their weapons voluntarily. The EU is expected to nominate a special envoy for Macedonia on Monday.
Even if a peace deal is reached in Skopje, there are doubts about the willingness of Albanian fighters to surrender their weapons under a proposed partial amnesty. Nazmi Beqiri, a spokesman for the fighters, said earlier this week that the militants will not accept proposals for them to disarm -- even if NATO troops collect their weapons.
Ethnic Albanian leaders say Solana's mediation today could end the deadlock in the negotiations. Aziz Pollozhani, a member of parliament for the Albanian Democratic Party for Democratic Prosperity, says the Albanian negotiators will present their position to Solana. NATO special envoy Peter Feith is also due to meet with the negotiators to try to help move the talks forward.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday that he thinks a political settlement in Macedonia ultimately will require some constitutional changes.
Powell said compromises will have to be made by both sides. He said the international community is working hard to bridge the differences.
News reports say that at a dinner last night with leaders of Macedonia's main parties, Western ambassadors told Albanian negotiators to drop their demands for a veto right over all key government decisions.