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Macedonia: Djindjic Killing, Investigation Have Little Impact Thus Far

Nearly four weeks after the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, the Serbian parliament today began debating a set of anticrime bills, including changes to the Penal Code. If adopted, the bills would lift the state of emergency that was declared in the country after Djindjic's death, and suspects would be able to be detained for 60 days without formal charges being made. Djindjic's assassination and the ensuing crackdown on organized crime have had a varying impact on Serbia's neighbors. As RFE/RL reports, the impact on Macedonia has been minimal so far, in large part because authorities in Skopje launched their own crackdown on crime and corruption more than six months ago.

Prague, 8 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Parliamentary elections that put a new government in power in Macedonia last September sparked a campaign against corruption and organized crime long before Serbia launched its own crackdown in the wake of the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

As a result, the response in Skopje to Djindjic's killing on 12 March was largely limited to a further tightening of security for Macedonia's top officials. But the Djindjic killing also brought back memories of the failed assassination attempt in 1995 on Macedonia's president at the time, Kiro Gligorov. He suffered serious injuries, including the loss of his right eye, when a bomb destroyed his limousine.

However, in contrast to the revelations linking Djindjic's assassination to senior police and military officials, as well as criminal gangs, the perpetrators and motives behind the attack on Gligorov remain a mystery.

Two years ago, however, when Serbian authorities arrested former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian news media alleged that Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic, may have been behind the attempt on Gligorov's life, as well as a variety of other violent acts. Little more has emerged since.

Markovic is reported to have left Belgrade for Moscow on 23 February, two days after an unsuccessful attempt on Djindjic's life. Serbian officials say the timing was no accident, adding they want to speak to her in connection with the August 2000 murder of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic.

To date, no details have leaked out from the Djindjic/Stambolic investigations that would link them to the attempt on Gligorov or on violence anywhere else outside of Serbia and Montenegro. But that could change as the investigation deepens. Links between organized crime groups in the two former Yugoslav republics are traditionally close.

Skopje political analyst Mersel Bilali said: "There is a natural link between criminal groups in Serbia and Macedonia. I think that what is happening now in Serbia -- the war on crime there -- shows that if there is a political willingness to fight it, it can be defeated."

Former Macedonian Defense Minister Blagoje Handziski said the Djindjic assassination could have a negative impact on Macedonia's hopes of integrating into the European Union. "The image of the Balkans as an unstable area will dissuade investors since it is hard to invest in a country if in the neighborhood a prime minister is assassinated," he said.

But foreign affairs analyst and law professor Denko Maleski said Serbia's war on organized crime during the past four weeks can only benefit Macedonia. "What is happening in Serbia is very important for us [in Macedonia] because Serbia is a strong regional power, and whatever they do will have a significant impact on their neighbors," Maleski said.

Djindjic's assassination occurred at a time of renewed tensions in the Karadag hills (Skopska Crna Gora) on Macedonia's northern border with Kosovo and southern Serbia's Presevo Valley. It came just days after two Polish peacekeepers were killed when they drove over a landmine and an Albanian insurgent group declared three ethnic Albanian villages near Kumanovo "free territory."

On the same day that Djindjic was killed and a state of emergency was declared in Serbia, suspected Albanian extremists raised the Albanian flag on a hilltop in the Karadag, reportedly as a warning to the Macedonian government to accelerate implementation of the August 2001 Ohrid Framework peace agreement.

Violent incidents are a frequent occurrence across northern Macedonia. Skopje experienced two car bombings two days ago -- one in front of a shopping center in an Albanian neighborhood, the other in the unoccupied car of a member of the ruling ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI). No one was hurt, though material damage was considerable.

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski today addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg in a bid to reassure it of Macedonia's strong commitment to meeting the terms of European Union membership, including pledges envisaged in the Ohrid agreement.

Trajkovski said it would be a mistake to become complacent and overlook how much remains to be done to convince Macedonia and the rest of the region to make changes "irreversible."

"We need to continue our efforts to strengthen the rule of law and fight against organized crime and corruption. We need to refocus our attention to deal more effectively with the use of economic and social cohesion. And we need to work on realization of the vision of a Europe not just for states but also for its citizens, enabling free movement of the citizens of the western Balkans across the borders of the European Union," Trajkovski said

The EU on 31 March took over peacekeeping duties in Macedonia from NATO with a six-month mandate, but may well withdraw later this year thanks to the normalization of the security situation. Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski has said Macedonian authorities intend to declare that Macedonia has no further need of an international military presence.

European Parliament President Pat Cox told the parliament in Strasbourg today the EU peacekeeping operation in Macedonia is a rare model of European unity. "At a moment when we are living through a sense of Europe having failed to find its voice in an adequate way on the Iraqi crisis and in the UN, we look to the Republic of Macedonia to mark one of the successes of the embryonic and emerging common foreign and security policy in Europe," Cox said.

Since Crvenkovski's government took office last September, it has been leading a crackdown on corruption, paramilitaries, and organized crime, including trafficking in women, weapons, and narcotics. Crvenkovski came to office in parliamentary elections last year that ousted the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE and returned his Social Democrats to power. Those elections also removed Arber Xhaferi's Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSh) from power and replaced it with a new party, the BDI, largely made up of former ethnic Albanian insurgents.

Since then, the chief of the customs service, Dragan Daravelski, was fired and subsequently fled the country in October. Some 35 staffers also have been fired or disciplined for abuse of office. The head of the electricity board was also dismissed.

The paramilitary Lions unit, formed less than two years ago by the previous government of Ljubco Georgievski and Ljube Boskovski, was disbanded in January, though not without a struggle. Several hundred Lions demonstrated in front of the Interior Ministry on 8 April, demanding jobs.

The Interior Ministry has been cleansed of political appointees from the two former ruling parties, the VMRO-DPMNE and the PDSh. A former minister for the economy, Besnik Fetaj of the PDSh, has been arrested in Croatia on a Macedonian warrant and extradited to stand trial on charges of corrupt practices in the privatization of the state-owned daily "Nova Makedonija." And the former chief of the Health Insurance Fund, Vojo Mihajlovski, has been arrested for embezzling 1 million euros.

Integration of Albanians into various branches of the civil service has begun, notably in the police, where some 1,100 minority members have been recruited. Ethnic tensions have eased but not gone away, as can be seen in the ongoing dispute over the integration of a technical high school in Kumanovo.