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Balkan Report: June 1, 2001

1 June 2001, Volume 5, Number 38

A BREAKTHROUGH IN MACEDONIA? The Macedonian leadership appears to have made two major concessions to the ethnic Albanian minority, which constitutes at least 23 percent of the population. If the government keeps its word and if the Albanians cooperate, Macedonia could put the present crisis firmly behind it and get on with joining Europe of the 21st century.

The government's moves follow the conclusion of a four-party agreement to maintain the broad-based coalition government amid strong pressure from the EU and NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001). In one major policy reversal, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said on 30 May that he is ready to change the constitution to make the Albanians a constituent people and place their language on an equal footing with Macedonian.

He stressed that "we have an obligation toward the international community to create a Macedonia that will suit the Albanians," AP reported. "That is our only solution at the moment. That is an agenda for peace.... Macedonia has been in a war for three months now. Who wants to go on waging this war?"

Georgievski added that he is also prepared to abolish the constitutional provision that accords a special status to the Macedonian Orthodox Church. Most ethnic Albanians are Muslims. In making this and the other concessions, he risks seriously offending his electorate.

In a second major policy reversal by the Skopje authorities, President Boris Trajkovski said on 30 May that he is prepared to introduce an amnesty for fighters of the National Liberation Army (UCK), who would also be allowed to exit safely to Kosova. The measure would not apply to the organizers of the insurgency or to individuals who killed Macedonian soldiers or police, Deutsche Welle reported. Trajkovski's spokesman said that details will be worked out shortly with NATO, whose foreign ministers called for such an amnesty at their recent Budapest meeting.

Observers note that Trajkovski's offer appears modeled on the approach recently used to successfully end the ethnic Albanian insurgency in Serbia's Presevo region. Although the government rules out direct talks with the UCK, many observers believe that the recent political developments had at least the tacit approval of all concerned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 May 2001).

If the constitutional changes and the amnesty are carried out, they will go far to separate those Albanians wanting a fairer deal for their own people on the one hand from nationalist extremists and criminal troublemakers on the other. The Western leaders who have been keeping up the pressure on the Macedonians to make the latest concessions will presumably stress this point to the leaders of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) and Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD).

Initial reactions from Albanian leaders suggest that they regard Georgievski's concessions in particular as grudging and the result of Western intervention. Be that as it may, the point is that the president and prime minister risked alienating their own voters by making the statements that they did, regardless of the circumstances. Elections are due in January 2002. Anyone who has ever spoken to Georgievski about the Albanian minority could never expect him to become an Albanophile overnight. But he has acted boldly and deserves to be taken at his word until proven otherwise. The same can be said of Trajkovski.

It now remains to be seen whether and how the latest offers and pledges will be implemented. As was evident at a recent meeting in Ohrid of the German Suedosteuropa Gesellschaft with prominent Macedonians and Albanians from all walks of life, the animosity and mistrust between the two communities run very deep, even among "moderate" individuals. The past ten years of Balkan history, moreover, have often served to underscore the old maxims that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and that the devil lies in the details.

But the latest offers from Skopje appear to have the makings of the long-awaited breakthrough. The pledges and the men who made them deserve to be given a chance. The stakes are too high for all concerned not to do so. (Patrick Moore)

ALI AHMETI -- AND A NUMBER OF NEW FACES. While the Macedonian security forces' campaign against the ethnic Albanian rebels continues in northern Macedonia, the UCK obviously is trying to join the political dialogue, not only in Macedonia, but also in Western Europe (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 May 2001, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001). But a first attempt to reach some agreement with the main ethnic Albanian parties in Macedonia was torpedoed by the refusal by both the ethnic Macedonian parties and the international community to embark on any talks with "terrorists," and it is not clear whether a new initiative by the UCK in Western Europe will be more successful.

The political head of the ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia, Ali Ahmeti, gained outside attention only recently after he signed a joint declaration in Prizren with the leaders of the two ethnic Albanian political parties represented in the Macedonian "government of national unity," the PDSH and PPD.

The following short biography is mainly based on an article in the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" of 29 May. As the source of its information the newspaper quotes an international arrest warrant issued by the Macedonian Interior Ministry of 1998. At that time Ahmeti was accused of terrorism and forming a "hostile organization" [zdruzuvanje zaradi neprijatelska dejnost].

Alija Isam Ahmeti (aka Abaz) was born in the village of Zajas near Kicevo on 4 January 1959. After he finished school in Macedonia, he went to Prishtina University to enroll in the Philosophical Faculty, from which he did not graduate. In 1980, he became a member of the irredentist organization "Marxist-Leninists of Kosova" (MLK). Four years later he emigrated to Switzerland, where he joined the illegal "Movement for an Albanian Socialist Republic in Yugoslavia." In 1985 he formed a sub-committee of the MLK for Macedonia.

In 1992, Ahmeti, Fazli Veliu, Emrush Xhemaili, and a minister of the then Kosova shadow-state government, Ramush Tahiri, met in a Zurich club where they reportedly agreed that the Albanian question in Macedonia could only be solved by war. In 1993, Ahmeti returned to Macedonia, where he founded a local branch of the illegal organization "National Committee for Kosova."

A second period of emigration in Switzerland followed, during which he and some unnamed persons were active in forming what the Skopje daily calls a "terrorist organization." At about the same time he reactivated the "National Movement for Kosova" and set up a foundation under the name "The Fatherland Calls."

According to the newspaper, it was Ahmeti who ordered an attempted bomb attack on the Kumanovo-Tabanovce railway line. This was confirmed during the trial of eight members of an alleged terrorist organization accused of setting off bombs in Macedonia in 1997 and 1998. A Kicevo district court found them guilty of "terrorism" some months ago.

From the newspaper article it is not clear whether the convicted men were members of so-called "troikas" of the illegal "National Movement for Kosova," which had carried out bomb attacks in 1997 and 1998 as well.

Ahmeti is reportedly in close contact with the military coordinator of the Macedonian UCK, Emrush Xhemaili. It is not clear whether Ahmeti will form a political party, as some have suggested (perhaps along the lines of Sinn Fein, which serves as the legal political wing of the IRA). The secretary-general of the PPD, Muhamed Halili, made such a suggestion after a meeting of the PPD leadership in Tetovo on 26 May, the Skopje daily "Vest" reported two days later. Halili noted that "should this happen, it would be a positive development, and Ahmeti would have the possibility to gain the confidence of the electorate, as the other political parties do."

There are other signs that the UCK would like to join a political dialogue. The ethnic Macedonian parties and the international community criticized Imer Imeri of the PPD and Arben Xhaferi of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) for signing the Prizren agreement with Ahmeti. But the UCK military leadership, for its part, named "ambassadors" to various European countries.

According to "Vest" of 29 May, citing the Kosovapress news agency, there are now official representatives of the UCK in Germany, Switzerland, the Benelux countries, and in Scandinavia.

Among these "ambassadors," whose main task will be lobbying for including the UCK in a political dialogue, is Ahmeti's uncle Fazli Veliu, who is responsible for Switzerland, where many ethnic Albanians live and work. Macedonian authorities have issued an international warrant for him as well in connection with the bombing campaign in western Macedonia in 1997. Other representatives are: Florin Ramadani (Germany, Austria), Milaim Zymberi (the Benelux countries), Halim Kasami (Denmark), and Rexhep Kurtishi (Norway). The only woman among the representatives, Shpetime Fida, will be "accredited" to Sweden. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

ALBANIAN ELECTION COMMISSION BLOCKS SOCIALIST 'INDEPENDENT' CANDIDATES. The Central Election Commission (KQZ) published a ruling on 29 May stipulating that candidates who have received support from political parties in their election campaign will have to run on official party lists -- rather than as independent candidates -- in the general elections on 24 June.

That move will force the Socialist Party (PS) to put several candidates on its party list, even though they have already been registered as independents, "Shekulli" reported on 30 May. These candidates include Culture Minister Esmeralda Uruci, who is a member neither of the PS nor of another coalition party.

The Socialist Party had hoped to win more voter support by explicitly promoting candidates from outside the party who are known as specialists rather than as politicians. Now the party will have either to withdraw its public support for the independent candidates or formally include them into the party's parliamentary group in the event that they win a seat.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party (PD) won most of the positions for chairmen of local election commissions, "Koha Jone" reported on 30 May. The local commissions -- which are composed of three members from the governing coalition, three members from the opposition, and one member from the ethnic Greek Human Rights Union Party (PBDNJ) -- voted for their own chairmen. The KQZ formally approved the appointments afterward.

It is the first time in Albanian history that opposition representatives hold an absolute majority of local election commission chairmanships. The shift became possible after the Greek party endorsed PD candidates in most of the 100 districts, even though the party has been in a coalition with the PS for the last four years. "Koha Jone" noted that in recent coalition negotiations, the PS failed to make a serious offer to the tiny PBDNJ for a post-election coalition.

Meanwhile in Tirana, the PS opened its election campaign with a large rally. Prime Minister Ilir Meta made public security the main theme of his speech, claiming that "we replaced chaos and anarchy with order and a new democratic constitution." He charged his main opponent, PD leader Sali Berisha, with committing "electoral fraud" and warned that the opposition will fail to promote European integration.

Meta pledged additional assistance for pensioners, but he also promised to promote privatization and create conditions to attract investors. Meta stressed that his government will not leave the "path of reforms that the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and all other partners [of Albania] support." (Fabian Schmidt)

ALBANIA AND KOSOVA SIGN CUSTOMS COOPERATION AGREEMENT. Albanian and UN civilian (UNMIK) customs officials have signed an agreement on improving administrative cooperation in the field of customs control, "Shekulli" reported on 30 May. The agreement provides for a better exchange of information and mutual assistance between the two customs services. (Fabian Schmidt)

CROATIAN COMPANY SIGNS $14 MILLION ALBANIAN OIL DEAL. The Croatian oil company INA has signed a oil drilling license agreement with the Albanian Ministry for Public Economy and Privatization, "Shekulli" reported on 30 May. The agreement gives INA the right to continue oil exploration in the area of Vlora, which it started seven years ago. INA plans to invest an additional $14 million. Besides INA, there are currently numerous other international oil companies involved in the exploration of Albanian oil fields.

Privatization Minister Hamdi Beshku stressed that recent seismological surveys indicate that the explorers can expect "an important discovery." He did not elaborate, but added that "this could serve as a foundation for the quick development of Albania's economy." (Fabian Schmidt)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Without NATO, the democratization of Southeast Europe could not have started. The partnership of NATO and the EU is indispensable for a successful completion of building peace in the region." -- Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Quoted by RFE/RL and the Budapest NATO foreign ministers' gathering on 29 May.

"It's going to be years [before the U.S. can bring its troops home from Kosova and Bosnia]. You can continue to reduce the troop level...but it could be some time before those countries are freestanding on their own and able to handle their own business and their own affairs." -- Secretary of State Colin Powell, quoted by AP in Budapest on 28 May.

"We trust only the Americans and the Europeans, not the Serbs. If the Americans were not here, the Serb military would have killed all of us." --Unnamed Albanian in Lucane, referring to the return of Serbian forces to the Presevo buffer zone. Quoted by "The Washington Times" on 31 May.

"Those boys [in the UCK] are not terrorists. They have not entered a single Macedonian house to terrorize the population.... The Macedonian authorities have to reconsider their terminology and act with great wisdom." -- Tahir Baba, dervish spiritual leader in Tetovo. Quoted by "The Guardian" on 29 May.

"It is simply clear that it is necessary to stress again and again that the military groups do not serve the Albanian cause, but, on the contrary, they harm it." -- Czech President Vaclav Havel. Quoted by RFE/RL in Prague on 31 May.