An accord signed today by leaders of Macedonia's main political parties is a step toward resolving complaints of inequality by the country's ethnic Albanians. But it is only part of a larger peace plan. The political accord does not include provisions under which guerrilla fighters would disarm in exchange for an amnesty. Those issues are to be resolved in a separate military agreement that is being brokered by NATO. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz examines details of the political accord, as well as the separate disarmament deal that must still be signed between the guerrillas and the Macedonian government.
Prague, 13 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The political accord signed in Skopje today is being hailed by Western envoys as a major breakthrough toward ending a six-month ethnic Albanian insurgency in Macedonia.
Although the accord still must be approved by Macedonia's parliament before its provisions become law, it does represent a compromise between elected officials on how to resolve complaints of inequality raised by ordinary ethnic Albanians.
James Pardew, the U.S. mediator in the negotiations for the accord, says the deal is Macedonia's best chance to avoid a full-scale civil war.
"The political settlement is the best hope for peace in Macedonia, and we are here to show the support of the United States for the political settlement and for peace in this country."
Under the accord, the constitution would be changed to recognize all of the country's ethnic groups -- and not simply the ethnic Macedonian Slav majority. Albanian would become a second official language in communities where more than 20 percent of the population is ethnic Albanian. There also would be proportional representation for ethnic Albanians in the Constitutional Court, in the government administration, and within the country's police forces.
The accord would create a "double majority" voting system in parliament that would enable lawmakers from minority groups to block legislation that has support only from ethnic Macedonian legislators.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson are among the international mediators who attended today's signing in Skopje.
Robertson noted that the political accord satisfies one of three conditions that must be met before NATO deploys a force of 3,500 peacekeepers to help disarm ethnic Albanian guerrillas. NATO also is insisting that a sustainable cease-fire is in place and that the guerrillas agree to disarm voluntarily in exchange for an amnesty.
Speaking on his arrival in Skopje today, Robertson said there must be a clear indication from the insurgents that they will disarm completely.
"So much has to be done to make the cease-fire durable, to get the disarmament, to bring the NATO troops here, and that is what we will be discussing today. But nobody should underestimate the success that is involved in this political agreement. It is a huge step forward for Macedonia and a major step by this country in joining the European family of nations."
NATO press officer Ariane Quentier explained the differences between today's political accord and the unresolved issues in the military-technical agreement to be brokered by NATO.
"We're talking about two different things. [Today's] political agreement is an agreement which will ensure -- in the long term, in the future -- a number of minority rights which will stand in the constitution. So that has nothing to do with the military-technical agreement. [The political accord] is something for the [ethnic] Albanians and the Macedonians so they can find a way to live together. The military-technical agreement is something more directly linked with the current crisis. And it [would detail the pledges of the government and guerrillas in order to restore] peace."
Alliance spokesman Francois Le Blevennec told RFE/RL the political accord clears the way for NATO envoys to start serving as mediators in indirect talks between the government and guerrilla leaders. He said it also gives President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski the authority to declare a partial amnesty as part of a disarmament deal.
"After the [political] agreement is signed, there will be a team from NATO that will going down there to identify the collection points and inevitably to have some talks with the people that are supposed to be handing these weapons over to them."
NATO has insisted that Skopje offer at least a limited amnesty to guerrillas as a confidence-building measure in exchange for a rebel pledge to disarm. Le Blevennec says the alliance has rejected demands from the Macedonian government for NATO to forcibly disarm the guerrillas.
"NATO is not going to move in to collect the weapons if the ethnic Albanian rebels are not willing to hand them over because we are not going to go in and grab the weapons from them. We will just install collection points and they will have to come and deliver these weapons there. So everything is conditioned upon the trust that [the guerrillas] have in the implementation of the agreements."
NATO envoys last week showed the Macedonian president a draft declaration that guerrilla leaders are expected to sign.
Under that declaration, the self-styled National Liberation Army (UCK) would accept amnesty offers for all former members of the group who voluntarily disarm, with the exception of those who have committed war crimes.
But Trajkovski said yesterday that he doesn't think guerrilla leaders will be satisfied with the political rights gained by ethnic Albanians under today's political accord. Trajkovski says he still thinks the real goal of the guerrillas is to capture Macedonian territory in order to form a Greater Albania.
"They would like to complete their [territorial gains] to make better their negotiating position, and also to secede [from] the country. It is a fight, a battle, for territory. They are not fighting for rights, human rights, and et cetera. They are fighting for territory."
At least 30 people are dead -- including at least 18 government soldiers along with guerrillas and civilians -- following heavy fighting that erupted last week.
Macedonia's National Security Council issued a statement amid the upsurge in fighting that is raising doubts about implementing today's political accord -- a process that would include parliamentary ratification of the pact as well as a NATO-brokered agreement on disarmament and amnesties.
The Security Council statement said there can be no question of implementing the political accord before the guerrillas vacate the territory they have seized in the north and northwest of the country.
For their part, guerrilla leaders say they will only lay down their weapons and withdraw from their positions after the provisions in the political accord are implemented.