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Balkan Report: September 7, 2001

7 September 2001, Volume 5, Number 63

MACEDONIA -- THE STOJAN ANDOV SHOW. It could have been so easy: NATO troops collect the weapons of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK), the Macedonian parliament convenes, and, after short discussions, opens the way for constitutional changes.

Such was the schedule set up by the Ohrid peace agreement, which was signed on 13 August by the leaders of the main political parties in parliament. But it did not go that smoothly. When the legislators came together on 31 August to discuss the proposed constitutional changes, it became clear that the big unknown factor would be Stojan Andov of the Liberal Party. Andov is president, or speaker, of the parliament, or Sobranje.

Andov had shown his aversion to the whole peace process earlier during this crisis. When the talks under the sponsorship of President Boris Trajkovski began in late July, he protested against the fact that only the leaders of the main ethnic Albanian and Macedonian political parties had been invited to participate -- while the parliament and the smaller political parties were excluded. In his view, the talks were thus not democratically legitimized.

In 1999, Andov ran for president against the Social Democrat Tito Petkovski and incumbent Trajkovski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization - Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), as well as against two ethnic Albanian candidates. During the election campaign he tried to present himself as a political hard-liner who stands for law and order. As his only hope, he played the nationalist, anti-Albanian card.

Trajkovski won the election in the second round against Petkovski, partly because he was supported by large segments of the Albanian electorate. Andov remained speaker of the parliament, a post that gives him extensive powers. When in May the government of "national unity" was formed under international pressure, Andov managed to retain his post -- at the expense of the internationally well-known Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim of the same party, who lost his job to Ilinka Mitreva of the Social Democrats.

Andov thus became indebted to Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski of the VMRO-DPMNE. In recent weeks, the close cooperation between the two has become all too obvious. On a number of occasions they took the same hard-line approach toward the crisis, and it is possible that it was Georgievski who quietly encouraged Andov's latest coup.

Georgievski was forced to yield to international pressure and sign the Ohrid agreement, and he now claims to support its implementation. But reading the statement Georgievski made before parliament on 3 September, it becomes clear that he does not expect the agreement to be implemented. Instead he speculates on the reasons for its anticipated failure, blaming the whole Macedonian crisis on NATO's inability to cope with the UCK, both in Kosova and in Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2001).

This is where Georgievski's man Andov came in. As speaker of the Sobranje, Andov can convene sessions -- and he can interrupt them whenever he likes. This is exactly what he did on 1 September, when he used a minor incident as a pretext to interrupt and postpone the parliamentary session until a later, unspecified date.

During the break between sessions, Andov held a press conference to set forth his demands for reconvening the parliament. He called for assurances from both Trajkovski and the international community that the Macedonian refugees expelled from their homes by the UCK can return to their native villages within 15 or 20 days. Andov's move led to busy diplomatic activity and angry domestic reactions, especially from Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski of the Social Democrats, who accused Andov of obstructing the implementation process. Andov himself had a meeting with Trajkovski and the mediators of the peace agreement, Francois Leotard of the EU and his U.S. counterpart, James Pardew. After that meeting, Andov declared that his demands had been met, and that he would call the parliament back to order on 3 September. Macedonian media reported, however, that Andov only took that decision under immense pressure from the international community.

The discussions that took place during that reconvened session produced a clear split along party lines. The post-communist Social Democratic Union (SDSM) of former Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski stuck to the moderate position they had already adopted during the peace talks, and signaled their support for the proposal. Along with the SDSM, the Liberal Democrats will also support the constitutional changes. And, no wonder, the two ethnic Albanian political parties that participated in the peace talks also voiced their approval.

Some small ethnic-Macedonian political parties, however, will vote against any changes to the constitution. As the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 1 September, Straso Angelovski of the nationalist MAAK-EMO said that neither his party, the VMRO-VMRO, the Democratic Alternative, nor the New Democracy (ND) will vote for the changes.

But since these parties have only a few deputies in the parliament between them, the outcome of the vote will mainly depend on the largest parliamentary grouping, that of the VMRO-DPMNE. Given the cool tone of party leader Georgievski's remarks, it is hard to believe that all those deputies will vote for the changes. There are rumors that some 30 VMRO-DPMNE deputies -- out of the 45-strong faction -- will either abstain or vote against the proposals.

At the time of this writing on 5 September, the vote had not yet taken place. But according to Harald Schenker, the spokesman of the OSCE mission in Skopje, it is very likely that the necessary two-thirds majority will be found. That will pave the way for the second phase of Operation Essential Harvest. [Editor's note: the measure passed 91-19 on 6 September.]

Meanwhile, Macedonian hard-liners, moderates, and the international community are making plans for the future. According to "The Sunday Times" of 2 September, the Macedonian army is using the current cease-fire to acquire new weapons from the Ukraine and Russia (see below).

Moderates plan to revive the UNPREDEP mission that ended in 1999 due to China's veto in the UN Security Council. Former Foreign Minister Kerim, who is now the Macedonian ambassador to the United Nations, has been asked to determine whether it will be possible to assemble a majority in the Security Council for such a mission.

NATO, for its part, is reportedly looking at plans for an extended mission to Macedonia and the introduction of "security zones" in the crisis regions, as the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" noted on 3 September.

In a nutshell, there is no great reason for optimism regarding the future of the small Balkan state. With almost daily bomb explosions in the capital, Macedonian paramilitary forces building up in the countryside, and the looming threat of further violence from ethnic Albanian rebels if the peace agreement fails, there seems to be little reason for enthusiasm. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

WHO IS BANKROLLING MACEDONIA'S ARMS SPREE? Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said on a recent tour of European capitals that Western governments owe her country financial assistance and support, but London's "The Sunday Times" of 2 September reported that Skopje -- or one of its friends -- has ample money to fund an arms buildup (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 July 2001).

The article reported that Macedonian security forces are "gearing up for all-out war in the autumn," quoting unnamed "Western intelligence sources." The article added that "NATO observation teams watched four cargo plane-loads of military hardware and spares arriving in secret flights at Petrovec airport near...Skopje last week. The sources said that...all were from eastern Europe. The shipments followed the arrival several days earlier of a giant Antonov transport plane from Ukraine, carrying what the sources believed were sophisticated Russian-made SA-13 anti-aircraft missile systems." It is not clear why Skopje needs such weapons to fight "terrorists."

The article added that the military are seeking to upgrade their SU-25 aircraft to achieve "pinpoint accuracy in raids." Ongoing training flights "cost thousands of dollars an hour," one Western expert noted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2001). (Patrick Moore)

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT ASKS META TO FORM NEW GOVERNMENT. On 6 September, President Rexhep Meidani formally asked incumbent Prime Minister Ilir Meta to form a new government. After he presents his finalized list of ministers to parliament, Meta will then need to hold a vote of confidence.

On 4 September, the Socialist majority in the new parliament elected senior party leader Namik Dokle as speaker, "Albanian Daily News" reported. Makbule Ceco, who was deputy premier in the outgoing government, is the new deputy speaker. The opposition Union for Victory did not take part in the voting since its 46 legislators are boycotting parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2001).

The same day, Socialist legislators re-elected Arben Malaj to head their parliamentary group. The Socialist Party has 75 legislators in the 140-seat parliament. (Fabian Schmidt)

ALBANIAN BUSINESS LEADER RETIRES FROM HIS COMPANY. Koco Kokedhima -- a charismatic and influential businessman and owner of a small media empire -- has announced that he will withdraw from the 2K Group, the company which he founded, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 5 September. 2K is one of Albania's largest private companies, and Kokedhima's withdrawal could lead to the closure of some of its enterprises. It remains unclear whether Kokedhima will sell the entire company or whether he will keep some shares in it.

But this does not mean that he intends to disappear from the scene: he apparently intends to remain active by promoting business interests through a lobby group. The daily "Shekulli," which belongs to Kokedhima, reported on 3 September that he will devote himself to his foundation that is dedicated to promoting good relations between the government and business.

In previous years, Kokedhima has openly displayed political ambitions. More recently, he supported senior Socialist politician Arben Malaj in his race against incumbent Prime Minister Ilir Meta for the Socialist Party's (PS) nomination for that post. Meta won the nomination despite Kokedhima's influence, however. "Albanian Daily News," moreover, quotes unidentified observers as suggesting that supporting Meta's rival cost Kokedhima lucrative business contracts with the new government.

Relations between Kokedhima and Meta deteriorated, in fact, after Kokedhima's construction company did a substandard job in reconstructing the road between Berat and Skrapar. The project, which the government launched several months before the 24 June elections, was of particular importance to Meta, who is from Skrapar and has his political base there. After the construction was finished, the government had to send the army's engineering corps to repair damage on the newly re-opened road.

Besides investments in construction, real estate, and a factory for electric transformers in Elbasan, 2K operates an Internet service provider, an advertising company, a radio station, and a weekly magazine.

In August 2000, Kokedhima opened a branch of 2K in Kosova, which he had to shut down recently after running into financial difficulties. But Kokedhima apparently also faced losses in the transformer factory and his media enterprises. "Albanian Daily News" quoted unidentified sources as suggesting that Kokedhima ran up debts of $250,000 -- a princely sum by Albanian standards -- with "Shekulli" alone. Others noted that 2K has not paid wages for two months to some workers. In a recent move, Kokedhima rented parts of Tirana's disused film studios for 20 years, with the intention of setting up a national private television station called TV Ballkan. In the end, however, he did not receive a broadcasting license. (Fabian Schmidt)

WEB NOTES. Try the UCK's website:

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Nothing, particularly in the Balkans, is inevitable." -- British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Quoted by AP in Skopje on 30 August.

"The real danger isn't that the United States will become trapped in Macedonia but that it won't be involved enough." -- Commentary in "The Los Angeles Times" of 3 September.

"Neither Europe [i.e. the EU] nor the United States nor the other countries engaged in Macedonia can let this country down." -- French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, quoted by AP in Skopje on 3 September.

"We are demilitarizing while the Macedonians are legalizing their paramilitaries." -- Unnamed UCK political representative, quoted by London's "The Sunday Times" of 2 September.

"The theory is that they're going to be taught good [professional] practice, when in fact they just want to know how to kill Albanians better." -- British defense expert Tim Ripley, on the British training program for Macedonia's special forces. (ibid)

"Our nation is not a commodity we can bargain or trade away." -- VMRO legislator Tomislav Stojanovski in the parliament on 5 September. Quoted by AP.

"I love Croatia." -- Serbian Culture Minister Branislav Lecic, on the Croatian island of Hvar. Quoted by "Vecernji list" on 31 August. Lecic and his Croatian colleagues are preparing an agreement on cultural cooperation.