The killing of 10 Macedonian soldiers yesterday in an ambush by ethnic Albanian guerrillas has raised doubts about the prospects for peace in the country -- despite an announcement by the EU's envoy that a Western-brokered accord will be signed on Monday (13 August). RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz reports that even if the political pact is signed, there are still doubts whether it can be implemented.
Prague, 9 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- EU envoy Francois Leotard's announcement yesterday that political leaders in Macedonia had initialed (granted preliminary approval to) a peace accord was overshadowed by news of an ethnic Albanian ambush that killed 10 government soldiers and reports of renewed heavy fighting.
Overnight an 11th officer was killed. Fighting is continuing today in and around the western city of Tetovo.
Amid the escalating violence, Leotard said yesterday leaders of the country's main political parties plan to sign an accord on 13 August that would end a six-month ethnic Albanian insurgency. Leotard said negotiations are not yet finished and talks will continue throughout the weekend:
"The political process will continue until Monday, 13 August, when the political agreement that we have prepared will be signed in Skopje."
This morning, Leotard appeared to be backing away from his optimistic announcement. The EU envoy warned that escalating violence might destroy the progress made during 11 days of negotiations at the southern town of Ohrid.
Leotard's doubts arose after a call by Macedonia's national security council for a decisive offensive against the guerrillas in and around Tetovo. The security council includes President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski.
In a statement, the council said repeated guerrilla violations of a 6 July cease-fire called into question NATO's credibility on forging a peaceful settlement. The alliance helped broker the cease-fire but refused a request from Trajkovski to deploy peacekeepers even before the guerrillas agree to voluntarily surrender their weapons.
Further signs of heightened tension continued overnight as ethnic Macedonians rioted in Skopje and other areas and called for a full-scale military assault against the guerrillas. The rioters battled with police in Skopje as they attempted to storm a hospital where seven wounded guerrillas are being treated. The angry mob then turned on homes and businesses of ethnic Albanians, smashing the windows of dozens of buildings.
Carlo Ungaro, the head of the OSCE's Skopje mission, says optimism about the Western-brokered political accord is waning. Ungaro says even if the accord is signed, there are doubts whether the pact can be implemented.
The negotiations in Ohrid have focused mainly on how ethnic Albanians could be given broader rights -- including the use of Albanian as an official language in parts of the country -- as well as boosting the number of ethnic Albanian police officers.
Western envoys participating in the talks have announced breakthroughs several times. But representatives of the guerrillas are not taking part.
The political accord does not include details on implementing the agreement or for enforcing the peace. Those details are to be contained in a separate military agreement -- involving NATO -- that would follow the political accord.
The military pact must be signed by both the government and guerrilla leaders of the self-styled National Liberation Army. In exchange for guarantees that the guerrillas will disarm, the government in Skopje is supposed to guarantee an amnesty for guerrillas who have not committed war crimes.
NATO officials have said they will not deploy peacekeepers to help disarm the guerrillas until three conditions are met: the political accord is signed; an effective cease-fire is in place, and the rebels agree to voluntarily disarm.
William Hopkinson, an international security analyst of the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, tells RFE/RL that NATO's conditions are preventing the alliance from playing an important role as an arbiter of peace.
"Realistically, at the moment, I don't see the possibility of the [Macedonian and ethnic Albanian] sides coming together. And in part, that stems from the reluctance of NATO to go in before there is a political settlement. It's no good waiting until there is an effective cease-fire because I don't think there will be one. There may be bits of paper, but the Albanians giving up their weaponry and the Macedonian government getting its act together are both most unlikely without [a NATO] force on the ground first."
Hopkinson, who specializes in Balkan issues as well as U.S.-European relations, says that he believes NATO's reluctance to deploy troops is primarily the result of Washington's desire to avoid American casualties abroad.
Macedonia, which is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, asked NATO to deploy troops as part of a peace plan proposed by President Trajkovski on 14 June. But Hopkinson believes that several NATO states lack the political will to deploy troops in Macedonia without security guarantees.
"My judgement is that the Americans will be extremely reluctant, that a number of the Europeans who might, in principle, be prepared to [deploy peacekeepers], the French or the British, will hesitate. I think the Europeans will have a fear of what happened in the early 1990s in Bosnia -- that the Europeans were on the ground and the Americans were not."
NATO's chief spokesman in Macedonia, Major Barry Johnson, told RFE/RL that the alliance is deeply concerned about the impact of the escalating violence on the peace process.
"With the events that have happened here, the fighting, there is a very grim atmosphere right now and a lot of concern. It has a big impact on the [peace] talks. We're not sure yet, as all this starts to unfold, exactly what is going to happen. We're watching. We're trying to monitor the situation, and trying to determine what can be done to get everything back on track and find a peaceful solution before this deteriorates further."
Murtezan Ismaili, the ethnic Albanian mayor of Tetovo, told RFE/RL amid the fighting yesterday that he is unsure what impact the violence will have on the signing of the political accord. But he said he fears events are spiraling toward civil war.
"From the position I am talking to you now, at the moment, it is difficult for me to judge what is really happening in the city. However, renewal of the fighting creates a great fear among the citizens and leads us to civil war, which is, of course, the worse thing for everyone."
The latest statement from Macedonia's Security Council reinforces Ismaili's contention that the country is sliding closer to civil war. The statement says even if the political accord is formally signed on 13 August, there can be no question of implementing the agreement before the guerrillas are pushed back from the territory they have seized recently in the north and northwest of the country.