September 14, 2001 - October 4, 2001

Macedonia Police Put Off Return to Rebel Areas Posted October 4, 2001
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20011004/wl/balkans_macedonia_dc_11.html
Thursday October 4 10:54 AM ET

Macedonia Police Put Off Return to Rebel Areas
By Kole Casule

ARACINOVO, Macedonia (Reuters) - Macedonian police on Thursday postponed plans to re-enter areas formerly held by ethnic Albanian rebels which Western sponsors of a peace plan had warned could reignite violence.

Police had chosen the northeastern hamlet of Grusino, with a population of 20 mainly Macedonian families, to launch a re-entry drive on what the hard-line nationalist interior minister had proclaimed as ``our D-Day,'' alarming Western envoys.

Preparations unfolded on the ground with a good deal more caution than originally billed by minister Ljube Boskovski and the plan was finally put off because, police sources said, it transpired that the road into Grusino was mined.

A Western diplomat said police turned back because international monitors refused to accompany them.

However, in the mostly ethnic Albanian populated western Macedonia, police patrols strolled back into three villages that were not directly controlled by the rebels but had been abandoned by the security forces to avoid confrontation.

Police General Risto Galevski told Reuters that the patrols went back into the villages Pozarane, Gorna Banica and Dolna Banica, and established contact with residents.

Macedonians mostly populate these villages and it was unlikely the re-entry of police would cause violence there.

The internationally-sponsored peace mission in Macedonia had issued a stern warning to the government hours before that it would not support any ``uncoordinated'' reoccupation of rebel areas that could provoke bloodshed.

``We will have no involvement until the government stops evading its obligations to rebuild confidence among Albanians before police return to rebel areas,'' a Western diplomat said.

``That means an amnesty for these rebels who disarmed voluntarily and constitutional reforms required by the (August) framework peace agreement.'' Both steps, crucial to sustaining the pact, have been blocked by nationalists in parliament.

Approaching Grusino, police first dropped in on the ethnic Albanian mayor of Aracinovo, a larger municipality on government front lines, to explain what they wanted to do and assure him no harm was intended.

After some discussion, a police official told reporters that the re-entry program had been shelved for the time being because the road ahead to the village was mined.

Grusino saw no fighting in the seven-month conflict between government forces and ethnic Albanian insurgents and was therefore classified a ``low-risk'' area for returning police.

WEST WARNS AGAINST HASTE

U.S., NATO, European Union and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe peace envoys said earlier the government had failed to honor a raft of conditions for reintegrating rebel areas peacefully.

The envoys issued a statement saying the government had dodged a ``fully transparent planning process'' involving international and ethnic Albanian community representatives.

It had not demobilized rogue police reservists and paramilitaries outside ``proper command and control.'' Nor had parliament adopted an amnesty and minority rights reforms crucial to sustaining peace with wary former insurgents.

The guerrilla National Liberation Army handed in almost 4,000 weapons to NATO last month and formally dissolved.

With NATO troops staying on in a temporary security role, ex-rebels have stayed in their villages to wait for reforms to be ratified. But analysts say the Albanians have hidden weapons in case the peace process collapses.

A senior former NLA commander known as Leka warned that ''war will resume'' if police barged into areas which were home to demobilized guerrillas before an amnesty was enacted.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Chris Patten arrived on Thursday with a no-nonsense message for the government.

Diplomats said they would tell Skopje it would get no reconstruction aid for its staggering economy until reforms to enhance the civil rights of minority communities were ratified, as foreseen by the peace pact.

Peace Shaken as Macedonia Plans to Enter Rebel Zone Posted October 3, 2001
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20011003/wl/balkans_macedonia_dc_5.html
Wednesday October 3 3:49 PM ET

Peace Shaken as Macedonia Plans to Enter Rebel Zone
By Mark Heinrich

SKOPJE (Reuters) - International efforts to cement peace in Macedonia ran into trouble on Wednesday when police declared they would re-enter areas home to disarmed guerrillas without an amnesty in place, provoking threats of new fighting.

Hardline Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski's announcement that police would unilaterally reoccupy parts of guerrilla territory on Thursday stunned Western patrons of the August peace accord, who urgently sought clarification.

A senior former commander of the minority Albanian rebels known as Leka said by mobile phone that ``war will resume'' if police moved in before an amnesty was enacted to release demobilized rebels from fear of arrest for fighting the state.

In a confusing twist, Macedonia's National Security Council said later security forces would re-enter insurgent regions in the next two days but ``with international coordination.''

An official with the international mission trying to resolve the Balkans' fifth ethnic conflict since 1991 accused the government of ``playing a dangerous game of ambiguity.''

He said NATO, European Union and OSCE envoys in Skopje were rushing out a joint statement reiterating the position of international peace overseers that police should avoid rebel areas until an amnesty is enacted.

``We're seeing what seems to a general move to force the agenda. It's serious, but between deciding and implementing such moves, there is still room for maneuver,'' the Western official told Reuters.

PUBLIC RELATIONS STUNT?

Muddying the waters further, a senior government official said afterwards police would go into only one village on Thursday in what he called ``a marketing stunt'' by Boskovski designed to show voters Skopje was not subservient to international policy.

``Boskovski will send police only into one village with a mostly Macedonian population, where he is sure there will be no violence,'' the official, who asked for anonymity, told Reuters.

Boskovski's gambit may have been timed to upset a planned visit on Thursday by European Union leaders intending to warn the government that donors will withhold aid unless it stops delaying reforms due to minority Albanians under a peace accord.

A NATO spokesman said no plan to reintegrate insurgent regions had been worked out with the government yet because the amnesty and constitutional changes to provide better rights to minority Albanians had not been enacted.

Boskovski said that did not matter because his men would reappear first in villages where no disturbances were likely.

``Tomorrow is D-Day for Macedonia, when Interior Ministry forces will return to occupied territories with light arms and (ethnically) mixed patrols,'' the minister told a news conference.

``Macedonia cannot wait for some missionaries to say whether this condition or that condition is fulfilled,'' he said. ``We are a sovereign country and we have our red line.''

His top police general said officers would arrest ``known offenders'' including former National Liberation Army commander Ali Ahmeti, if they came across them.

The NLA voluntarily relinquished its declared weaponry to NATO last month and dissolved itself in a Western-engineered peace bargain obliging Skopje to grant an amnesty and reforms enhancing Albanian political, language and educational rights.

But the ex-insurgents are believed to have squirrelled away arms in case the peace process collapses.

James Pardew, the U.S. co-mediator of the peace pact, told Reuters earlier that international officials were worried about ''the threat of a premature return of security forces to rebel areas, which would be destabilizing.''

NO REFORMS, NO FINANCIAL AID

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Chris Patten were to visit on Thursday to warn Macedonian leaders there would be no reconstruction aid until crucial constitutional reforms were enacted.

But a senior government official said Solana and Patten would be warned in turn that the pact, the product of scrambled Western diplomatic intervention to avert a full-blown civil war, could not survive parliamentary scrutiny as written.

A treaty provision replacing references in the constitution's preamble to the ``Macedonian people'' with ''citizens'' was unacceptable in a tiny country with historically predatory neighbors, the official told Reuters.

Skopje also wanted to resolve the fate of 12 Macedonians reportedly kidnapped by rebels before issuing an amnesty.

Doubts have arisen as to whether threats by the EU to cancel a donors' meeting for Macedonia planned for October 15 unless parliament ratifies the reforms will overcome nationalist resistance.

One NATO diplomat said nationalist party leaders who signed the peace deal reluctantly seemed to have become ``cocky'' since the NLA disarmed and might be sizing up the option of more war.

Macedonia obtained about 30 T-72 battle tanks from Ukraine last month, stiffening the resolve of those who resented the energetic Western mediation that thwarted a looming counter-offensive by hardline factions of the security forces.

International Heat on Macedonia to Implement Peace Posted October 3, 2001
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20011003/wl/balkans_macedonia_dc_2.html
Wednesday October 3 9:08 AM ET

International Heat on Macedonia to Implement Peace
By Mark Heinrich

SKOPJE, Macedonia (Reuters) - Western peace sponsors ratcheted up pressure on Macedonia Wednesday to pardon ex-guerrillas and legislate civil rights reforms to avoid alienating Western donors essential to post-war reconstruction.

``Our message to the Macedonians is that there's no free lunch, no peace without some sacrifice. It's not sustainable unless the Macedonians do what they committed to do in the (August) peace accord,'' a senior Western envoy said.

``International frustration is rising,'' he told Reuters after weeks of go-slow tactics by Macedonian parliamentarians balking at Western-engineered concessions to ethnic Albanian guerrillas, who have formally disbanded under NATO supervision.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Chris Patten will come Thursday to warn Macedonian leaders there will be no aid until the peace accord they signed is enshrined in law.

But a senior government official said Solana and Patten would be warned in turn that the pact, the product of scrambled Western diplomatic intervention to avert a full-blown civil war, could not survive parliamentary scrutiny as written.

A treaty provision deleting references to ``Macedonian people'' in favor of unnamed ``citizens'' from the constitution's preamble was unacceptable in a tiny country with historically predatory Balkan neighbors, the official told Reuters.

He said the EU leaders would be urged to persuade minority Albanians to accept a compromise preserving ``Macedonian people'' in the preamble, or to seek international recognition of the name the republic chose when it won independence in 1991.

Skopje resents the name imposed on it for all foreign relations -- Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Greece blocked Skopje's use of Republic of Macedonia, arguing that it implied a claim on its northern province of the same name.

The high-ranking government official, who asked not be identified, said Skopje also wanted action to resolve the fate of 12 Macedonians reportedly kidnapped by guerrillas before an amnesty is issued.

``It's obvious the amnesty has to happen. For the sake of peace, it is inevitable and indispensable. But we must be conscious of public sensitivities. Elections are on the horizon (in January),'' he told Reuters.

'LOW RISK' LEEWAY

Solana and Patten will also be asked to endorse the idea of returning state police and refugees to some ``low-risk'' parts of rebel territory, where primarily Macedonians lived, before parliament adopts the reform package, he said.

``MPs whose constituents remain refugees cannot reasonably be expected to ratify it. They need to see concrete progress on the ground first and, fundamentally, to see if the diagnosis and treatment of this crisis was right or wrong,'' he said.

Skopje suspects the ex-guerrillas' latent agenda is a purely Albanian mini-state given de facto protection by an international security troops, like in nearby Kosovo, not reintegration as equal citizens of Macedonia as they maintain.

NATO-backed international civilian monitors, tasked with guiding steps to restore state organs in rebel regions, oppose any re-entry of police before reform and amnesty legislation, saying ex-insurgents fearful of persecution would resist.

But doubts have arisen over whether the EU and U.S. patrons of the peace deal can wield meaningful leverage over Macedonian hard-liners with threats to cancel a donors conference.

The Macedonian cabinet itself suggested Tuesday that the conference, set for October 15, be put off because its experts could not safely access rebel territory to assess war damage and suggest to donors how much was needed to repair it.

Most Macedonian politicians, media and public suspect the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army has not genuinely disarmed or dissolved.

Indeed, independent Western military experts say the NLA probably surrendered only about half its real arsenal during the 30-day NATO collection program completed late last month.

Most former insurgents remain in their northern neighborhoods, unarmed and out of uniform. But no one disputes their ability to take up armed struggle again if pushed.

One NATO diplomat said nationalist party leaders who signed the peace deal reluctantly seemed to have become ``cocky'' since the NLA disarmed and might be sizing up the option of more war.

Macedonia obtained about 30 T-72 battle tanks from Ukraine last month, stiffening the resolve of those who resented Western diplomatic intervention that stifled a planned counter-offensive by the security forces.

Rebel Head in Macedonia Gives Order to Disband Posted September 28, 2001
http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/28/international/europe/28MACE.html
September 28, 2001

Rebel Head in Macedonia Gives Order to Disband
By CARLOTTA GALL

SIPKOVICA, Macedonia, Sept. 27 Ethnic Albanian rebels declared today that they have formally disbanded and are returning to civilian life, ending their eight-month insurgency for more rights in Macedonia.

Ali Ahmeti, the political leader of the National Liberation Army, said he gave the order to disband at midnight on Wednesday, hours after NATO agreed with the Macedonian government on the mandate for a new task force to deploy here to keep the peace effort on track.

Surrounded by former fighters, now all dressed in dark suits, Mr. Ahmeti was speaking in this mountain village in western Macedonia that has been his headquarters. In a conciliatory speech, he vowed to cooperate with the peace effort and said he was sure that with the help of the international community the ethnic Albanian minority and the Macedonian Slav majority could overcome all security problems. "We should not create conditions that could reactivate the National Liberation Army," he said.

Despite the talk of peace, the potential for a resurgence of violence is very real.

Sandbagged checkpoints on the roads in western Macedonia have been abandoned, and children play in the trenches and foxholes. But an invisible front line remains along with off-limits areas between government controlled and rebel-held territory.

While the rebels have by all appearances handed in their weapons and disbanded, the Macedonian Parliament has yet to ratify the political agreement that would grant the Albanian minority in the country broader political rights. Nor has the government yet organized an amnesty for the rebel fighters as was promised during the peace negotiations. These final steps are expected to last at least another two weeks.

NATO, meanwhile, is moving out. It has ended its 30-day mission to collect and destroy rebel weapons, and the first of its 4,500 troops began departing today. A new force of 1,000 troops will take over, but there are concerns that trouble may break out before the new force is ready. "The next two weeks are perhaps the most critical," a NATO spokesman said.

"We need these guys right now on the ground," said Maki Shinohara, spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency in Skopje. "Numbers are not so important, but we want a very effective presence that would discourage people from taking up weapons for self-defense, and reduce the fear that is very real in these communities."

NATO has been particularly concerned about Macedonian Slav paramilitary groups that emerged a few weeks ago. They have been accused of starting firefights at night around several frontline villages and harassing ethnic Albanian villagers by day.

Their presence threatened to derail the rebel disarmament process until finally President Boris Trajkovski was persuaded to order their removal. NATO troops have swarmed into the area, and regular units of the Macedonian Army and police have taken over security of the Macedonian Slav villages, but these paramilitary groups are a potential danger, NATO troops say.

Another potential danger is that former rebels admit that, while they have handed in most of their weapons, many have kept a side arm. Independent analysts estimate that the rebels have handed in only half of their weapons and can procure more on the black market.

A member of Parliament, Nikola Popovski, argued that any flare-up of fighting would prove that NATO's weapons collection mission had been a failure. If so, he said, Parliament should not give final approval to the political agreement and thus effectively stop the peace process dead.

Arben Xhaferi, the leader of the main Albanian political party, said that if the Macedonian Slav parties tried to change a small part of the political agreement, then his party would reject the whole package.

The rebel leader, Mr. Ahmeti, said the Macedonians could not renege on the peace deal. "It would be the same as us asking for our broken and destroyed weapons back from NATO," he said. "You know it is not possible."

In the next two weeks, the two most taxing issues will be the return of the displaced Macedonian Slavs to their homes in western Macedonia, and the re-entry of Macedonian police officers to the rebel-held areas.

Macedonian legislators are insisting both happen soon, before the approval of the peace accord.

NATO's Pullout From Macedonia Causing Anxiety Posted September 27, 2001
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-000077455sep27.story?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2Dworld%2Dmanual
September 27, 2001

NATO's Pullout From Macedonia Causing Anxiety
Europe: As alliance troops start to leave today, neither major ethnic group is satisfied.
By ALISSA J. RUBIN, TIMES STAFF WRITER

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- As NATO troops begin to leave Macedonia today at the end of a one-month mission to disarm rebels, uncertainty prevails over the country's peace process.

The mission, which NATO Secretary-General George Robertson this week called "a resounding success," collected 3,875 weapons, along with mines, explosives and ammunition, from ethnic Albanian guerrillas. It also broke the cycle of violence that had gripped the country for seven months.

However, its larger and more important goal was the creation of a political climate for the Macedonian parliament to implement a Western-brokered peace plan and for displaced citizens to return to their homes. On those issues, the outcome is far from clear. The parliament has yet to complete work on reforms called for under the agreement, and at least 100,000 people remain displaced.

"The military part of the operation is only in support of the political process, and ultimately it is the political process that has to deliver the future," said British Brig. Barney White-Spunner, a leader of the 4,500-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization force.

The politics have proved more complicated and the peace plan more controversial than Western negotiators appeared to recognize at the beginning of the mission. The difficulties have created a potentially dangerous situation in which ethnic Macedonian politicians are reluctant to move forward with the parliamentary process that is expected to grant more rights to the ethnic Albanian minority. That foot-dragging in turn has bred distrust among ethnic Albanians and could foster a willingness to return to violence.

The parliament was scheduled to act by Friday to change the constitution and pass the new laws needed to make a reality of the peace agreement signed in August. But debate has been drawn out, and many ethnic Macedonian politicians are raising questions about key aspects of the agreement.

Lawmakers now are scheduled to renew debate next week. In the meantime, they are taking public comment on the peace agreement. A promised amnesty for ethnic Albanian guerrillas who laid down their arms has yet to be formalized.

Macedonian officials say they doubt that the reforms can win approval until security forces regain control of some areas held during the conflict by ethnic Albanian guerrillas, allowing ethnic Macedonians to return home. Ethnic Albanians make up at least 25% of the nation's 2 million people.

"We need to see significant steps, visible progress, in returning our security forces and displaced people to occupied territories, re-integrating them, before [lawmakers] finally vote to reform the constitution," said Stevo Pendarovski, a spokesman for President Boris Trajkovski.

Officials from international aid organizations agree that the country faces a serious problem because of the large number of internally displaced people. At least 71,000 people within the nation's borders cannot go home; about 60% of them are ethnic Macedonians. An additional 27,000 ethnic Albanians who during the fighting fled to neighboring Kosovo--a province of Serbia, the main Yugoslav republic--have not returned.

"For most of these people, the big thing is the security issue," said Maki Shinohara, a spokeswoman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. "While some of them have had their houses destroyed, a lot of them are just afraid, and we cannot yet say to them that we've seen the end of the conflict."

Shinohara and others point to certain roads where ethnic Macedonian police and paramilitary units have appeared along one side and ethnic Albanian guerrillas, known as the National Liberation Army, hold the hills on the other side. Even if only one shot is fired, it can set off a round of gunfire that leaves villagers caught in the middle.

The refugee agency and other international groups have been urging the Macedonian government to allow the deployment of a new NATO force to help create a secure environment. Late Wednesday, the alliance and the government appeared near agreement on a force of 700 soldiers, led by Germans, who would spend a minimum of three months in the country.

However, their mission would be limited to protecting unarmed international monitors who are going to help integrate ethnic Albanians into the nation's police force, which currently is more than 95% ethnic Macedonian, and bring security forces back into guerrilla-controlled areas.

Goran Mihajlovski, the editor of Vest, the nation's second-largest Macedonian-language daily newspaper, said he believes that the country is splitting along ethnic lines. Even without a shot being fired, he said, ethnic Macedonians will continue to leave areas where ethnic Albanians are in the majority. And they leave with a bitterness about the NATO intervention and the peace deal.

"The bottom line is everybody thinks NATO is great, but they also think they shouldn't be telling us what to do. . . . Yes, the violence has stopped, but there's a stronger feeling among Macedonians that they were swindled," Mihajlovski said. "NATO didn't let us take care of this problem with ethnic Albanians on our own."

Most ethnic Albanians believe, however, that NATO is all that stands between them and an ethnic Macedonian police force that often targets them for punitive treatment.

A force of just 700 alliance soldiers seems too small to Kim Mehmeti, a longtime writer for Lobi, a leading Albanian weekly magazine.

"Anything less than 3,000 troops is too few. That number, psychologically, would make me feel safe," Mehmeti said. "Now the [Albanian guerrillas] cannot defend me because they have given up their arms; Macedonian government forces will not defend me, so then I have only one choice if NATO does not come, and that is to leave the country."

NATO Chief Urges Macedonia to Carry Out Terms of Peace Pact Posted September 26, 2001
http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/26/international/europe/26MACE.html

September 26, 2001

NATO Chief Urges Macedonia to Carry Out Terms of Peace Pact
By CARLOTTA GALL

SKOPJE, Macedonia, Sept. 25 NATO's secretary general, Lord Robertson, arrived here today and urged Macedonian politicians to help keep the country's peace effort on track by ratifying constitutional changes and passing an amnesty for ethnic Albanian rebels.

Lord Robertson went to a base for NATO troops in western Macedonia to congratulate them for successfully completing a 30-day operation to collect 3,300 weapons from the rebels. He handed a letter to President Boris Trajkovski saying that the collection was completed a day ahead of schedule.

Collecting the weapons was part of a phased effort to end the violence here, which began in the spring. Ethnic Albanians, who are in a minority, are pressing for greater rights and recognition from the Macedonian Slav majority. As the weapons were handed in, Parliament was to ratify constitutional changes agreed to by party leaders in August at the lakeside resort of Ohrid.

On Wednesday NATO members are set to approve another smaller force to help keep the fragile peace effort on track. Details are still being finalized, but the force will number fewer than 1,000. It will probably be German led, and its mandate will largely be to protect unarmed international monitors, NATO officials have said.

Troops have not only been collecting weapons in the last month, but they have also been patrolling the tense front-line areas and have helped press the rebels and government troops to maintain their cease- fire. Tensions in the divided communities have eased dramatically since the NATO force arrived.

While Lord Robertson called NATO's operation an enormous success, he warned that Macedonia's politicians still have to keep their part of the bargain.

"The political process is not complete, and the Macedonian Parliament must set aside any petty political interest, and complete its part of the settlement that was struck at Lake Ohrid," he said. Failure to complete the effort would "face the people of this country with the bleak prospect of a descent into civil war," he warned.

He also had a strong warning against violence for both the rebels and the Macedonian security forces. "After the events of Sept. 11," he said, "there is no tolerance in the international community for terrorism, barbaric aggression and intolerance."

Macedonian Slav politicians have dragged out the process of ratifying the peace agreement and constitutional changes that would grant the Albanian minority greater participation in state institutions, including the police, elevate their language to an official state language and give more home rule to the regions.

After much foot dragging, Parliament finally accepted the 15 constitutional amendments for debate on Monday, but the debate and final ratification will take at least two weeks. Macedonian Slav nationalists proposed to put the constitutional amendments to a referendum today, but the debate faltered and the idea is not likely to succeed.

Despite the theatrics in Parliament, rebels of the National Liberation Army have met NATO's demands and continued to hand in their weapons, even while Parliament fell behind in its part of the plan, NATO spokesmen said.

Rebels have handed in 3,381 weapons for destruction, more than the target number of 3,300, and are expected to disband.

An amnesty for the rebels is crucial to ensure peace, Lord Robertson said. Mr. Trajkovski has given his word that it will be passed, but the terms have not been settled, Lord Robertson said.

Rebels Disarmed; Macedonia Disputes NATO Presence Posted September 26, 2001
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20010926/wl/balkans_macedonia_dc_477.html
Wednesday September 26 2:15 PM ET

Rebels Disarmed; Macedonia Disputes NATO Presence
By Mark Heinrich

SKOPJE (Reuters) - NATO (news - web sites) said Wednesday rebels in Macedonia had surrendered 3,875 weapons, completing a crash disarmament scheme crucial to a peace pact, but a security void loomed as Skopje disputed plans for a longer alliance presence.

NATO's policy-making 19 state ambassadors agreed to send a new security force to Macedonia to protect international peace monitors, but the government raised 11th-hour objections over the size and duration of the mission.

Plans to install the force before a security vacuum yawns as other NATO troops who completed their arms-collection assignment Wednesday start withdrawing ran into trouble over Macedonia's fears for its wounded sovereignty.

The peace accord signed in August under heavy Western diplomatic pressure is wobbling because of parliament's failure so far to approve minority rights reforms in return for what NATO said was its ``resounding success'' in disarming the rebels.

West European leaders say parliament must honor its end of the bargain or jeopardize strenuous international efforts to defuse the Balkans' fifth ethnic conflict since 1991 and buttress weak democracies across the region.

But a senior government official said the nationalist- dominated legislature was unlikely to ratify reforms unless Skopje recovered some rebel-occupied territory first.

Western officials believe that would invite trouble until parliament enacts an amnesty for the guerrillas, a crucial confidence-building step it shows no sign of taking.

The peace accord's deadline for amending the ethnocentric Macedonian constitution was September 28. But parliament's debate of the draft reforms en route to the ratification stage is now sure to drag on well into October.

Deputies are also considering whether to toss the reform bundle to a referendum, a gambit Albanians call a deal breaker.

International peace monitors will oversee the restoration of state institutions, particularly the police, and return of Macedonian refugees to insurgent areas once Skopje and NATO agree the terms of a follow-on security force.

ROBERTSON LOSES PATIENCE

NATO Secretary General George Robertson, apparently losing patience over the last-minute Macedonian complaints, went ahead and announced alliance ambassadors had authorised the mission. He said a smaller force code-named Amber Fox would succeed the 4,500-strong ``Task Force Harvest'' disarmament contingent.

``It's my hope that we can today finalize the details so that this mission can be deployed quickly under Germany's leadership,'' he told a news conference in Brussels.

Macedonian security sources said the government was in intensive talks with two NATO envoys to overcome differences.

``We want no more than 700 soldiers -- that's extraction troops and liaison officers together. NATO wants 1,000-1,200, a battalion size that could be misused by Albanian separatists to divide the country,'' one security official said.

``We also want no longer than a three-month mandate with the option to reconsider our position at the end of that period,'' he told Reuters. ``NATO wants at least six months' deployment, if not nine.

``We are close to a breakthrough to define these vital elements of the new force but we may have to talk into the night to get it. We want to solve things today.''

Task Force Harvest commanders told a news conference on Wednesday its final tally of 3,875 guerrilla firearms slated for destruction in Greece was more than 500 over the original target agreed with the rebel National Liberation Army (NLA).

The haul included 3,210 assault rifles, 483 heavy-caliber machine guns, 161 mortar and anti-tank rocket launchers, 17 ground-to-air missile systems and three tanks the guerrillas had captured from the inept Macedonian army.

There were also 395,620 rounds of ammunition, 1,045 land mines and grenades and 354 other explosive devices.

``All these weapons were handed in voluntarily by the so- called NLA as they disbanded and we believe they represent its true military capability,'' said British Brigadier Barney White- Spunner, commander of Task Force Harvest.

``No organization would hand over so many and such good quality weapons unless it was completely committed to the path of peace,'' White-Spunner said.

He was discounting suspicions by Skopje that the guerrillas concealed firepower from NATO with the aim of staging violence to raise tensions that would trap NATO in a peacekeeping role, splitting the tiny ex-Yugoslav republic along ethnic lines.

Demobilized insurgents count on NATO for protection as long as civil rights reforms and an amnesty remain in doubt. They cite threats by Macedonian paramilitaries with shadowy police links to avenge ``Albanian terrorism.''

Analysis: What next for Macedonia? Posted September 26, 2001
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/europe/newsid_1564000/1564853.stm
Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK

Analysis: What next for Macedonia?

Collected rebel weapons are destroyed

By the BBC's South-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

Nato is wrapping up its mission to collect weapons handed in by the ethnic Albanian guerrillas of the National Liberation Army, or NLA.

But the political reforms to extend the ethnic Albanians' collective rights have yet to be ratified by the Macedonian parliament where the debate on this issue has been prolonged by several delays.

"We have collected the number of weapons that we'd intended to when we came in here that were promised by the NLA to be voluntarily turned over"- Nato spokesman Major Barry Johnson

So what are the successes of the Macedonian peace processes so far and what are the problems lying ahead?

Nato was given a one-month mandate in Macedonia to collect and destroy 3,300 weapons that the NLA had agreed to surrender.

The deal was reached in August after the NLA's six-month conflict with Macedonian security forces.

The process of collecting the arms - known as Operation Essential Harvest - has now been completed on schedule.

Nato spokesman Major Barry Johnson said:" We have collected the number of weapons that we'd intended to when we came in here that were promised by the NLA to be voluntarily turned over.

Nato completes its target of 3,300 weapons

"More importantly, is the fact that we've continually seen a decrease in incidents and the environment is vastly improved since we've been here. But the environment has to remain secure so people can believe that they can live and work together once again."

But the success of Operation Essential Harvest does not mean the end of Nato's mission in Macedonia.

Although the bulk of the British-led 4,500-strong contingent is being pulled out in the next two weeks, a smaller force of perhaps around 1,000 soldiers is going to take over on a longer-term mission.

The task of that new German-led mission - Operation Amber Fox - will be to protect the 120 or so civilian monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Union who will be overseeing the implementation of the peace deal.

The new, smaller Nato contingent - with a mandate of perhaps six to nine months - is part of a compromise arrangement.

Lord Robertson warns that constitutional changes must not be delayed

The Macedonian side is suspicious of any foreign military presence, fearing that its task might be to police the effective partition of Macedonia between government-controlled and ethnic Albanian-held areas.

The ethnic Albanians would like a large Nato presence to protect them from possible retaliation from the Macedonians now that the NLA has given up a sizeable part of its arsenal.

The end result of much hard bargaining was to agree on the stationing of a small Nato force in Macedonia.

And as far as Macedonia's Western partners are concerned, its task is limited to protecting the unarmed observers. There is always the possibility, though, of mission-creep - of Nato troops being sucked into other, potentially more dangerous activities.

And more so since the peace process in Macedonia is far from over.

"It is an enormous step towards peace. It is a unique event" - Nato's envoy to Macedonia, Joerg Eiff

There have been repeated delays in the parliamentary procedure. As a result, the 15 constitutional amendments which give the ethnic Albanians more extensive collective rights have yet to receive full ratification.

There has been even less progress on an amnesty for the NLA's fighters which President Boris Trajkovski announced at the start of the peace talks, but this has not been followed up so far by a formal procedure.

The delays have prompted Nato's envoy to Macedonia, Joerg Eiff, to ram home the message that further political measures need to be taken now - whatever the success of the mission to collect the NLA's weapons.

He said: "It is an enormous step towards peace. It is a unique event regarding not only the Balkans' recent history - a movement of this kind voluntarily surrenders its weapons and simply declares it self-disbandment.



The constitutional amendments have yet to receive full ratification


"It is not everything and the other side of course, the official Macedonian side and the entire society of course, this reconciliation must follow suit.

"The political process has not been advancing as desired, not quite. An amnesty is being eagerly awaited. The political process will have to implement an agreement on constitutional arrangements which will improve the legal and political situation of the Albanians in this country."

Nato's Secretary-General, George Robertson, used much more dramatic language during a visit to Skopje.

He warned that Macedonia could face the bleak prospect of sliding into renewed conflict and possible civil war if the required constitutional changes were not adopted in time.

Lord Robertson's warning was based, at least in part, on an awareness that the ethnic Albanian fighters have not handed in all their weapons.

Weapons still hidden

The NLA may have largely demobilised for now - but ethnic Albanians are still believed to have many weapons hidden away. And they may restart their struggle if they believe that the provisions of the Ohrid agreement are not being carried out.

That is why there is an urgent need for speedy progress to make the required constitutional changes and to recruit ethnic Albanians into the police force so that their numbers would reflect their share of the population.

But some Macedonian politicians - particularly those in Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski's centre-right Vmre-Dpmne party, are worried that they might alienate many of their supporters if they implement the deal in full.

They have even been discussing putting the constitutional changes to a referendum - which could torpedo the entire deal.

With parliamentary elections due within four months, an informal election campaign has already got underway. And many politicians are trying to outbid their rivals in their appeal to nationalism - making their campaign cast a dark shadow over the peace process.

Skopje MPs told to sign truce now Posted September 26, 2001
http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,558105,00.html

Skopje MPs told to sign truce now

Nicholas Wood in Erebino
Wednesday September 26, 2001
The Guardian

Macedonian MPs were warned by the Nato secretary general, Lord Robertson, yesterday that their failure to ratify the peace agreement with the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army could throw the country into civil war.

He was speaking as the Nato mission to collect weapons from the NLA, Operation Essential Harvest, drew to a close. Most of the 4,500 solders are due to leave in the next fortnight.

Lord Robertson told reporters at a German base in Macedonia that failure to implement the peace agreement would jeopardised the mission's achievements and face Macedonians with "the bleak prospect of a descent into civil war".

"It is up to the parliament of this country to turn the people's hopes into a political reality," he said.

He spokes as the task force announced that it had collected more than 3,300 weapons: its estimate of the guerrillas' arsenal.

But with none of the political reforms sought by the Albanian minority in return for disarming in place, western officials are showing increased frustration with the government.

The disarmament programme was designed to coincide with the adoption of the political reforms promised in the agreement signed on August 13 in Ohrid.

The Albanians are demanding changes to end discrimination against them.

MPs have slipped far behind the 45-day timetable they set themselves, according to which they should have agreed the changes by tomorrow, and they have been passing the constitutional amendments by the narrowest of margins.

They are not due to give the accord a second reading until October 4 at the earliest.

Some analysts say that politicians, in particular from the biggest party, the VMRO-DPMNE, want to distance themselves from the accord, well aware they they face a general election early next year: a fact Lord Roberston alluded to during his visit.

"The political process is still incomplete, and the Macedonian parliament must set aside any petty political interests, and complete its part of the settlement that was struck at Lake Ohrid," he said.

He also urged the government to pass an amnesty for all NLA members who have surrendered their weapons, as President Boris Trajkovski promised more than a month ago.

"The amnesty must be delivered because the president of the republic has given me in writing the assurance there will be an amnesty," he said.

"I expect that the authorities in this country will deliver on the commitment made by their president."

Lord Robertson held talks with the president, the prime minister, and the ministers of defence, foreign affairs and the interior. A western diplomat who was present said the talks were business-like but that there was no hope of "speeding up the process".

A force of 600 to 1,000 troops under German command is expected to replace the current taskforce, under the title Amber Fox.

Its main job will be to protect up to 108 monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union.

But the lack of an amnesty and the slow pace of the political reforms will put the operation under additional pressure if Albanian villagers start looking to its troops for protection from the Macedonian security forces.

A Nato official said that the return of the regular police to formerly rebel held areas before the framework agreement was ratified would be seen as "a very risky activity, and would be seen as illegitimate."

The UN refugee agency UNHCR warned last week that the new Nato force might be too small and have too narrow a mandate to secure the return of displaced majority Macedonians and ethnic Albanians to their homes.

DIALOGUE IN SKOPJE: Branko Geroski and Kim Mehmeti Posted September 21, 2001
IWPR'S BALKAN CRISIS REPORT, NO. 282, Part II, September 21, 2001

DIALOGUE IN SKOPJE Branko Geroski, editor-in-chief of the leading independent Macedonian daily Dnevnik, and Kim Mehmeti, novelist and a founder of the leading independent Albanian weekly Lobi, spoke in the offices of Dnevnik on September 10 with IWPR executive editor Anthony Borden and IWPR Macedonia project director Agim Fetahaj.

************ VISIT IWPR ON-LINE: http://www.iwpr.net ******************

DIALOGUE IN SKOPJE

Branko Geroski, editor-in-chief of the leading independent Macedonian daily Dnevnik, and Kim Mehmeti, novelist and a founder of the leading independent Albanian weekly Lobi, spoke in the offices of Dnevnik on September 10 with IWPR executive editor Anthony Borden and IWPR Macedonia project director Agim Fetahaj.

IWPR: What is your view of the current situation in Macedonia - have we passed the worst, or is it yet to come?

Branko Geroski: Obviously, the end of the crisis has not come yet. The situation is very complicated, very tense. There are hidden agendas which we cannot influence, and which - although I don't like conspiracy theories - do overcome our capacity, as an ethnic community. So it is very hard, and I simply do not know what will happen next.

Kim Mehmeti: I think everything depends on the international community. Macedonia has already made a step towards one kind of "Libanization": not only do ethnic Albanians have their own military structures which the state institutions regard as illegal but the police themselves have created paramilitary structures. So unless everyone in Macedonia is disarmed, the country will retain its potential for conflict, low-level but with great risk for the whole Balkans.

It will be especially risky if a security vacuum appears after NATO's mandate is completed and space for revenge emerges. In this case, the international efforts will collapse like a house of cards, and I believe this would be the final end of Macedonia.

Geroski: I appreciate Kim's desire for a total demilitarisation, but the trend is towards even more arms in Macedonia. At the moment, we have a new NATO mission, which means new weapons, new soldiers and, in some instances, new problems. Unfortunately, instead of a process of demilitarisation, the society is being militarised. Even the Ohrid agreement includes ways of restructuring the police, and Albanians have proposed ways for restructuring the army. But until now there has been no proposal on how to reduce arms and the means of killing.

Mehmeti: I am not naive. I know the consequences of having a foreign army in one's own fatherland. But I am not talking about destroying local arms only in order to have German or someone else's tanks here. I see the arrival of foreign arms as a means to destroy the domestic ones. After that, we would be in a situation were we wouldn't have to think of arms as the only way of solving our problems.

IWPR: What are the key factors that will determine the success of the peace plan?

Geroski: The key factor is the willingness of both ethnic communities to make it happen. In the new agreement, we have designed a system that looks like consensual democracy. It is a system that will satisfy the appetites of the Albanians and of the international community. The problem is that we could have reached these changes in three or four years of political, not real, fighting. With Macedonia beginning the process of association with the EU, certainly Brussels could have put great pressures on the Macedonian authorities.

Now we may have a great system, but there is no content in the relations between Macedonians and Albanians. Trust has been lost. Albanians constantly pointed out that we had never been at war with each other. Now that is lost. We have had war, and this will make it difficult to take crucial decisions about the future of the country.

Let me remind you that Yugoslavia was a perfectly designed system of consensual democracy. What we have here is not even as advanced as the decision-making structure of the Yugoslav state system, but even that country disintegrated.

So we fear that the peace process will merely cement current relations. The peace process itself does not mean anything if it doesn't bring development, a chance for progress for both ethnic communities. That chance may not be lost forever, but I fear that it is lost for the moment.

Mehmeti: The design to rearrange Macedonia is wonderful, an optimal solution for the Albanian side. But it all depends on the human material to put together, and that is us, the citizens of Macedonia.

Wisdom that grows out of this tragic situation is hardened, and leaves no room for doubt. If Macedonian citizens have truly concluded that the country can only survive based on the will of all of its citizens, and not just some of its communities, then that is a sufficient basis for us to turn towards each other.

We have already demonstrated that in every area, if the two most numerous communities want to destroy the country, they can do it. But we can take a positive lesson from this and realise that we, the Macedonians and the Albanians, exist not just to spite each other but in fact to share a common goal.

The framework agreement offers a definitive break from the Leninist concept of state-building, the 19th century concept, whereby the most numerous community chooses the design and we, the others, take part in that only to the extent that we are allowed. If Macedonia abandons this concept with a sound conscience, it will regain the advantage it had, compared to its neighbours.

On the other hand, if the percentage of Macedonians who think they are not able to live with Albanians increases, or if the Albanians start to close themselves off, then we will see the creation of ethnic borders. In Bitola, now, there are no more Albanians, while it is difficult to be a Macedonian in Tetovo. The challenge is to halt this draining of these unsafe enclaves.

Geroski: All of Kim's nice wishes will be drowned out when the first gun starts firing after the end of this harvest, when the first serious incident happens. Let's not be naive. We are still at war with each other. Only elementary political preconditions have been created for peace, but I doubt that this war has ended. I think politically extreme Albanians received a very clear message from the Western powers: if you want to achieve political goals, reach for arms, fight and you will succeed! I admit that armed Albanian militants managed to achieve their goals, at least in part. This tells me that the story is not over. So I am rather pessimistic, and feel peace is far away.

Mehmeti: I know that my hopes could be killed off right away. On my way home, I have to pass three checkpoints where reservists of Ljube Boskovski [the interior minister, alleged by some to be responsible for the killings at Ljuboten] will ask for my identity card, and everything depends on whether they are drunk or sober! So I have no illusions. I know that it is easy to start a war, and peace requires time and effort.

But I am fascinated with my friends, the Macedonians. They always seem to know what we Albanians think. Let me tell you how we understand the message from the West: "You Albanians be careful because this is the last time you will manage to survive. Any more games in the future could be very risky."

I absolutely agree that the process of "de-Yugoslavisation" of the Balkans is not finished. For me it will be completed when the status of Kosovo and Montenegro are defined. Then, and if there is international support, including an extended military presence, the Macedonian story will be closed.

IWPR:What is your view of the international involvement in the conflict, especially the role of NATO?

Geroski: They have been clumsy. Kim's answer just proves my point about encouraging the use of force to reach political goals. As Kim and all Albanian intellectuals confirm, the issue of Kosovo has still not been resolved, and it will touch the interests of all the Balkan countries, especially Serbia and Yugoslavia, as well as the international community. Montenegro, too, is yet to come, which means also the status of Albanians in Montenegro.

So I would like to be convinced that the message to the Albanians is, "This is your last game". I would like to hear one Albanian say, "OK, we got what we got, we are satisfied. That's it. The goal has been reached. Now we can live in peace." Unfortunately, we don't get that message. The story of the Albanians in the Balkans continues. The crisis continues. There will be more wars, more problems and more troubles involving the international community.

Mehmeti: I don't think Albanians and Macedonians should stop searching for beauty. They should continue, but not with arms. Until Tanusevci [the village north of Skopje where fighting first erupted this spring], Macedonia was the pampered child of Europe. Probably Europe knew this child was disabled in its inter-ethnic relations, and so was always indulged.

Lately, among Albanians there is a very good joke: Who should Ali Ahmeti [the National Liberation Army leader] thank the most? The Macedonian-language media and the government of Macedonia who recruited his army.

Don't forget that until March, the international community had a very clear position towards the crisis in Macedonia, fully backing the government. But this position changed when they saw that the state institutions are not real public institutions but ones only interested in protecting one community. It changed when they saw that the Macedonian-language media did not hesitate to collectivise the guilt: from a child to a hen - an Albanian hen - they are all guilty, all legitimate targets.

>From that moment, the international community was left with no other choice but to take a position, telling the government: respond, but proportionally. They saw that the brothers rushed to buy helicopters with tax money they had taken in part from Albanians, but that only Albanian houses were destroyed. They saw people who claimed that destroying a church is barbarism but destroying a mosque is a legitimate target. People who even declared that we are the Taleban, but made no such remarks when the mosques in Prilep and Bitola were set on fire.

The president and the government of this country expressed their condolences to the families of every soldier who was murdered. But we never once heard them express their condolences to the families where an Albanian child was killed. So the country's institutions were not prepared to protect their citizens. That's why we the Albanians had the right to ask the West for protection.

Geroski: Things are not as Mehmeti presents them. First, we cannot forget a very important fact: who started the war. It was Albanian "thugs", as George Robertson [the NATO secretary-general] called them at the outset. The victims in this war are the Macedonians. This war was to conquer a piece of Macedonian territory, and it is still going on. I'm completely aware that it will be achieved with NATO's new mission. A piece of territory will definitely be beyond the control of the state of Macedonia.

Inappropriate behaviour did take place, as the foreigners say, on both sides. But the international community was biased. If ever there was a pampered child in the Balkans it was the Albanians - supported by the US, the EU and, in the Kosovo war, NATO.

Now, what's done is done. The winners on the battlefield should be congratulated. But what will come out of it all? What will life be like in Western Macedonia, in the "Tetovo ghetto"? What will the state look like? Will it be luckier than the previous one? These are the big questions.

Were the other states that went through the hell of war - Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Yugoslavia - happier and richer afterwards? Everything that the Albanians in Macedonia achieved with arms and killings could have been achieved by political means. In the civilised world, political goals are achieved with political means. In Kosovo that was impossible, but in Macedonia it was possible. This is why what was done in Macedonia was a great sin.

Mehmeti: I don't argue that the Albanians started the war. At least we agree on something. But I could prove that Albanians never reached for guns to attack the Macedonians; they attacked institutions. They never attacked a single settlement, not one!

Macedonians also claim that Albanians occupied territory. Would my house have been occupied by the Albanians? It is Albanian! Speaking in ethnic, not state, terms, I always thought that my field is Albanian, not Macedonian. But during this war I realised that Macedonians treat me as a subtenant in this country. If I'm not satisfied with my house and I raise my voice, they will tell me how to behave since it is Macedonian.

I agree that there were some who anticipated war and then urged it on - look at the proposal of the academics [the Macedonian Academy of Arts and Sciences, which floated a map dividing the country into ethnic areas]. But this war would have ended three months ago but for the rejection of the proposal of Robert Frowick [former OSCE official in Macedonia, who proposed a mechanism for including the rebels in peace talks]. In fact, Albanians exceeded themselves and were expecting someone to be clever enough to say, Stop.

Now Branko claims that it all could have been achieved through political dialogue. Why wasn't it after Tanusevci? Why didn't someone say, "Look, the way this has started it will burn everything out." But no, first they wanted to stick Macedonian flags in Albanian villages and only then negotiate. That's why I say that Albanians were provoked, and that the NLA was formed by intellectuals, media and political dilettantes from here.

IWPR: Both of you have long been identified as political moderates. But recently some have seen a change. Branko has written texts suggesting that the only solution is a military one. Kim has insisted - except for in this conversation - on using interpreters with his long-time Macedonian friends. So have your attitudes and political orientation changed?

Geroski: I'm convinced that neither of our positions changed. Reality changed, significantly.

The Lesok monastery is changed because half of it is gone. The mosques in Prilep and Bitola are changed because the one in Prilep is gone. Seventy Macedonian families are left without the heads of their families, killed, most of them not in a soldierly way but in a cowardly way.

The country is definitely changed. People lost their trust. I'm not optimistic like Kim that very soon we'll dance the Kozara dance [a Yugoslav dance that symbolized brotherhood and unity] and we'll hug and kiss each other and we will be happy until the end of our lives. It won't happen soon.

To opt for peace means to have principles. I was the first one who publicly proposed changing the text in the preamble to the constitution [a key Albanian demand]. I was the one who supported peace up to the last hour of the negotiations. But I do not accept the occupation of Tetovo by some bandits.

In the comment published in Dnevnik for which all of you point at me, moving me completely unfairly to the camp of the militant Macedonians, I said the following: there won't be any peace in Macedonia unless we comply with what was agreed. It was not agreed to occupy Tetovo and other territories.

We all know who started the offensive the day the Ohrid agreement was initialled. That's not politics. That's pressure on an entire nation.

Kim and I could discuss how we should design this flat of ours. I have my own room, he has his own room. Or in this country of ours, where he has a house and 5 kilometres away I have my own. But if you come and tell me that this is no longer my room, that I have to move out, as 70,000 ethnic Macedonians were told, I would have no choice but to defend my room in our mutual flat - ie, my house in our common country.

The issue is not your house, Kim, and your field, which you quite rightfully consider Albanian. Only 5 kilometres from your house is my house - my house is the issue. Macedonians are driven away from the Tetovo area, not Albanians. I would like to see one Albanian intellectual say: "Stop, people. We should not drive these people away from their historic hearths, because that is not right." At this moment 70,000 Macedonians are driven away from their homes, and 50,000-60,000 Albanians fled as a result of the war. That's the only thing where we are equal: in the consequences and the sufferings of the war. But we are not equal in sharing responsibility for the injustice.

Mehmeti: Macedonian reality has changed, and I tried very hard not to change along with it. To stay as I was. During this period I had more than 20 interviews with media both here and abroad in which I sent a message to the Albanians: if you start feeling joy when houses are burned or children are killed, I don't need such a victory.

But even in the mathematics we differ. Branko mentions 70 casualties and I will mention about 400. The reason is that I count all the new graves in Macedonia, Macedonian and Albanian. I include Albanian casualties as well - children, women, ten people from Ljuboten . . . He counts only the Macedonians, as if they were the only victims. The entire time, the media, parliament, everyone claims that in Macedonia there are only 70 victims. The government counts only the policemen and the soldiers. It does not count the child killed in Poroj. It's pitiful.

Albanians and Macedonians in Macedonia will win the battle only if they are courageous enough to look themselves in the mirror. To see not what others have done to them but what they have done to others. That will be the sign that we will be able to live together.

Albanians are closer to the truth, not because we are more human but because we read both in Macedonian and in Albanian languages. That's the situation: we are always closer to the truth. I'm glad that the Albanians did not collectivise guilt but made a clear distinction: the conflict was the NLA against the authorities, never the Albanians against the Macedonians. That happened with the Macedonians . . .

Still, I never wanted to dance the Kozara dance with the Macedonians - many Albanians don't like me, so I wouldn't expect an entire other nation to. But understanding, yes, that I could expect.

As for language, I have proved my attitude towards my citizens by telling stories in both languages. But I felt humiliated, provoked. I know Macedonian language well, but when I say that I want to speak Albanian, it is so I can organise my thoughts better. But then a colleague of mine called to say he was invited to participate in a TV programme. He asked me to ask them if he could use at least some phrases in Albanian. They reacted as if the NLA had come to bomb the studio! That's why I stand by what I said: until we start respecting each other in this state, I'm not going to use the language anymore.

IWPR: What are the preconditions for peace and coexistence in Macedonia?

Geroski: I am convinced that when the constitutional changes are presented in parliament, Albanians will vote for them and they will vote for the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia as a whole. Thus for the first time after ten years they will approve the constitutional act of this state and they will say: Yes, this is our country where we can live in peace and tranquillity. Until this moment I have not heard such a confirmation, but I hope I will. That's one of the basic preconditions.

Another is to show a little bit of sincerity in the period that follows, a general human sincerity. Kim knows well that no mater what he says, this was never Kosovo, that the Macedonians have never been Milosevic's Serbs. There was a great difference between Macedonia and Milosevic's Yugoslavia. Even after this war there will be a great difference between Macedonia and the new democrats in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The Macedonian as an ethnic stereotype differs significantly from the other more powerful Balkan nations. And that's the fortunate thing in this region. There won't be a tragedy if the minority fears as if it is threatened, because all over the world minorities who feel threatened fight for their rights. But it is a real tragedy if the majority feels that it is seriously threatened. If we manage to avoid a real war, it will mean we managed to avoid that feeling.

Nevertheless I still believe we are better than all those foreigners who were trying to convince us that they are more civilised, that we are Balkan people, killers and so on. Thank God in Macedonia we still haven't used bombs to kill children, to destroy pubs and markets, as happens in Great Britain.

This is where we search for the foundations for coexistence. How many generations it will take to forget all that has happened, I don't know. The future depends on that. It is possible that everything will end nicely - but only if there is willingness on both sides, especially among those who drew weapons first. That is the order. The one who first starts the killing needs to forgive, but for that he first needs to ask for forgiveness.

Mehmeti: One of Branko's conditions is being fulfilled. The one who started firing first has begun to disarm first. On that the international community was correct.

Now, if I knew that with the Ohrid agreement Macedonians were even in the smallest way damaged, I would publicly, as Kim Mehmeti, distance myself from it. I don't want to accept anything that means taking something from somebody else in order to give it to the other.

I know absolutely that peace in Macedonia depends on the mood of the ethnic Macedonians. I don't think of them as less courageous people than mine. But if the Macedonian state continues to incite a feeling among ethnic Macedonians that they are humiliated and degraded, I don't see a way out. If the media continues to nurse the sense that the Macedonians are losers and that this is a capitulation, then in two or three years some ethnic Macedonian "NLA" will emerge and the same problem will reappear, only bigger. In this case, Albanians will be interested not in the maintenance of this state but in its disappearance, as soon as possible.

This is the only danger for Macedonia. As long as the world exists, there will be extreme Albanians. I have no illusions about this. But I also know that in England there are at least 2,000 Englishmen who wake up every morning with a prayer for war. But do you know what else is there in England? There are state institutions that absorb all that as some kind of trash thrown into the river and washed up on the banks.

In this ten-year long dispute we appeared as dilettantes because we have not succeeded in dealing with some most elementary things. Branko is right: compared to the Albanians who lived under Milosevic we lived in heaven! But when he disappeared, the Albanians in Macedonia faced the fact that they were almost the biggest losers. I'm trying to think as an ordinary Albanian. What would his calculation be? He would take a pencil and start: why haven't we got anything? Maybe because we did not fight, we weren't aggressive enough.

Now for Albanians from Macedonia, Kosovo is the centre of our education and culture, half of our families are there. Branko knows who educated us in Yugoslavia. Why did Albanians from Macedonia flee to Kosovo and not to Albania? Because at least 30 per cent of Albanian men from Macedonia have wives from Kosovo. It is not just the ethnic feeling.

So there is nothing more irritating for us than when the president comes out and says, We are against an independent Kosovo. Why are you against what you are trying to provide to your own people, an independent state? I have never understood this. Why would Macedonia be at risk?

The result is that Albanians in Macedonia feel like they are in some kind of "waiting room" regarding Kosovo. Maybe I am stupid and naive - I'm a writer, and I don't know how to think politically - but I think the very day Kosovo is declared an independent state, the Albanians in Macedonia will know that the end of the story has come. Yet as long as the dilemma remains open, about how to divide Kosovo with the Serbs, Albanians in Macedonia will wonder, What about us?

So in this context, I don't feel like a winner. A winner would have had another goal - the destruction of Macedonia - and be able to say: we have overcome the Macedonians. Never, it was not even at the back of my mind, did I say that we are fighting against the Macedonians, but against the institutions of this state, which is mine.

Geroski: I'm convinced that when the president reads your statement, he will be more careful in what he says about an independent Kosovo. In the past maybe Kim was not so dangerous, but now he is because, even if he is not the winner, Boris Trajkovski is militarily defeated.

Kim: If he feels as if he is only the president of the ethnic Macedonians, he should be.

Geroski: Even though many things have been destroyed, not so many have been built. The reality is this: you and I cannot go together to Tetovo. This is the situation that has been worrying us for some time. So I won't be happy in my Skopje and you won't be happy in your Saraj [Kim's home district], but both of us have a rather good standing in front of the people from Tetovo and Kumanovo.

Anyway, I think that the Albanians already have an independent Kosovo, I believe . . .

Mehmeti: So why are you against it since you know that they already have it? That's even more irritating.

Geroski: I believe that you will have effective autonomy in a part of Western Macedonia, because part of that territory will not be under the control of the security forces. But I'm also certain that life for Albanians in Macedonia in the coming period will be even worse than before. But you won't be able to explain that to yourself, and even less to me.

My fault as a Macedonian is great because I haven't done enough though I did a lot - you have to admit - to be constructive and courageous in increasing the rights of minorities. But I believe that your fault is a little bit bigger than mine because you didn't do enough to say: "Wait, there is always another chance and we must not start killing people for this thing."

Mehmeti: My advantage is that I read Branko and I know everything he has said, but he does not read me. I don't blame you; such are the circumstances. But you don't know what I said at the beginning of this war and I cannot elaborate it here for you because I don't have the texts with me.

All wars are hard to explain. Did we really need a war? No. But what can we take from it? When the war in Croatia began, it was impossible to find a Croat and a Serb who would sit like this and talk. And in Macedonia you could still find at least 100 people who, even though they don't look at each other in the best way, would still talk.

If that substance is well kneaded, you can still have good bread. That's why I keep saying: everything depends on the institutions, will they be able to do the kneading? With the idiots [politicians] that we have right now not only do I expect war but even worse things. Even now they will try to force us, to tell us what kind of house to build, on the left or on the right. I'm counting on a new generation that will be able to learn the lesson from this tragedy.

IWPR: The last question is the most difficult - after all this, could you say what you two do agree on?

Geroski: I am fascinated with Kim's optimism even though he claims that he is a pessimist. He seems to me to be a fantastic optimist, so I will agree to meet again for seminars where we can study more about brotherhood and unity. I would like to agree with his optimism, but frankly at this point I am not sure.

Mehmeti: I accept the role of optimist. Do you know where it comes from? I know that all my Macedonian neighbours have been given Kalashnikovs. I know that in Macedonia tens of thousands of Kalashnikovs have been handed out. I know that, in some areas, Macedonians could have risen and made a mess. Even to the Albanians I say that that is the proof that they do not want war with us.

The proof that Albanians do not want war with the Macedonians is the following: I live in an ethnically pure Albanian environment and not even from the most illiterate Albanian - I claim this with all my honour - have I heard that the time has come for this to be settled once and for all. Everyone wonders how is it possible that the government hasn't come to its senses, that some wise man has not emerged to sort it all out.

But still, the Albanians, not even the hardest rebels, have risen against the Macedonians. As a journalist I had contacts with them, and they all claimed that they couldn't bear the humiliations from the country's institutions. If it was up to me I would go for civil disobedience -- everyday protests, boycotts, closed roads - but not the war. Certainly you could have explained to the Albanians that all this could have been achieved in three years.

But bear in mind that there are people whose level of patience is different from Branko's and Kim's. Now I will tell you a secret: for the first time after a long time I have crossed over to this side of Vardar. I am afraid of the reservists, but not of Branko.

NATO Willing to Do More in Macedonia Posted September 20, 2001
http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/20/international/europe/20MACE.html
September 20, 2001

NATO Willing to Do More in Macedonia
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.

BRUSSELS, Sept. 19 NATO indicated today that it was prepared to extend its mission in Macedonia by providing soldiers to guard European observers monitoring the peace process there.

While the number of troops involved would be small, the plan, if approved, would symbolize NATO's commitment to Macedonia, echoing its commitments to peacekeeping missions in Kosovo and Bosnia.

Experts have discussed sending 200 to 300 soldiers to provide security for civilian observers from the European Union and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe. But details like the final number of soldiers, how heavily armed they would be, where they would be based or what countries would supply them have not been decided.

At present, a 4,500-strong British- led force is in Macedonia collecting weapons from ethnic Albanians who began an insurgency there in February. The mission is scheduled to end on Wednesday, and a NATO spokesman said there was no interest in an extension at today's meeting of the ambassadors from the 19 member countries.

Sending the bodyguard force to Macedonia became possible only today, when NATO received a letter from Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski requesting it.

Formal approval must now go through three steps. The NATO spokesman said it was possible to do it in a week, before the mandate of the 4,500-troop mission expires, "if we work hard."

NATO Resumes Collecting Weapons Posted September 20, 2001
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/20010920/wl/macedonia_634.html
Thursday September 20 9:33 AM ET

NATO Resumes Collecting Weapons
By ELENA BECATOROS, Associated Press Writer

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) - NATO resumed collecting weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels Thursday, launching the final phase of its mission despite foot-dragging by lawmakers apparently reluctant to implement a Western-backed peace plan.

NATO spokesman Maj. Barry Johnson said troops were collecting weapons from the militants at a site opened earlier in the day. Alliance officials had said earlier that they didn't expect the rebels to hand in any arms, suggesting the rebels might be holding back in anger over Macedonian lawmakers' resistance to proceeding with constitutional reforms.

But by early afternoon, weapons were being handed in by the rebels, Johnson said.

``I don't know the concerns that caused the delay, but they're now ready to turn them in,'' he said.

Under the step-by-step peace plan, parliament is to approve constitutional amendments granting the country's ethnic Albanian minority greater rights in exchange for the rebels handing over 3,300 weapons to NATO troops and disbanding.

The alliance already has collected more than 2,200 weapons. Parliament was expected to discuss the amendments before the last third was collected. It did not convene Wednesday after failing to reach a quorum, and for hours Thursday it was uncertain whether it would convene.

But midafternoon Thursday, the session finally began. Lawmakers were to debate a potentially disruptive issue: a proposal by the small New Democracy party to put the constitutional amendments to a referendum.

A referendum could disrupt the peace efforts, as sentiment is strong among majority Macedonians against giving ethnic Albanians greater rights. Such a possibility could cause months of delay.

``Who knows what will happen?'' said NATO spokesman Mark Laity. ``We will adapt to the circumstances as they arise.''

Under the phased peace plan, parliament is supposed to give final approval of the constitutional reforms after the rebels have handed over the 3,300 weapons.

The alliance's arms-collecting mission ends Sept. 26. ``We are planning to be out when our mandate finishes,'' Laity said Thursday.

A Macedonian government request for a small NATO force to protect international monitors beyond that date was being discussed at alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Laity said.

The U.N. refugee agency urged the creation of a larger force capable of assisting in the return of tens of thousands of displaced people to tense areas.

Security concerns have come to the forefront in recent days in the Macedonian villages of Zilce and Ratae, northeast of the city of Tetovo. A tense standoff developed over the past few days when villagers refused to allow certain police units to be replaced by the army.

Police spokesman Vasko Sutarov said all police units in the two villages had been replaced by the army by Thursday morning.

The Macedonian government decided to replace the units following an exchange of fire on Sunday night between police in Zilce and ethnic Albanians in the neighboring village of Semsevo.

NATO said its liaison teams determined the firefight had been initiated by the police units in Zilce.

In another development, an explosion seriously damaged an ethnic Albanian-owned gas station near a police checkpoint outside Skopje early Thursday, police said. No injuries were reported, and it was not immediately clear what caused the blast.

Macedonia MPs Mull Peace Reforms, U.S. Blasts Delay Posted September 20, 2001
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20010920/wl/balkans_macedonia_dc_471.html
Thursday September 20 12:28 PM ET

Macedonia MPs Mull Peace Reforms, U.S. Blasts Delay
By Mark Heinrich

SKOPJE (Reuters) - The U.S. envoy to Macedonia accused political leaders Thursday of distorting last week's hijacked airliner attacks in the United States to sabotage a peace accord with minority Albanians.

After two weeks of obstructions by nationalist hard-liners, parliament met for a preliminary vote on 14 constitutional amendments that would grant Albanians better civil rights mandated by the Western-brokered agreement signed in August.

But momentum toward implementing the pact generated by swift handovers of weapons to NATO by Albanian guerrillas has broken down over the resistance of legislators to crucial legal changes and a gambit to submit the deal to a referendum.

Parliament, whose sessions on the peace plan have been plagued by procedural chaos or canceled for lack of a quorum, decided at the last moment Thursday to put off a referendum vote until Friday and look at amendments instead.

Western officials fear a referendum could pitch Macedonia back into bloodshed, given popular distaste for concessions to ''Albanian terrorists'' and the guerrillas' readiness to resume armed struggle if reforms are aborted.

James Pardew, the U.S. special envoy to Skopje, said Macedonians in a position to influence public opinion were trying to discredit the peace accord by making invidious analogies with the assaults on New York and Washington.

'COMPLETELY FALSE'

``Comparisons between what happened in Macedonia (the guerrilla uprising) and the events in the United States last week are completely false,'' he told Reuters in an interview.

``I am informing the government that we object to the use of the (U.S.) tragedy ... to attempt to delay or disrupt the peace process ongoing in Macedonia,'' he said before going into talks with government leaders.

``There have been public statements about the U.S. re- evaluating its position in Macedonia based on what happened in New York and we see that as an attempt to delay or disrupt the peace process by redefining the situation here,'' he said.

``I am advising Macedonian leaders that there is no change to U.S. policy and that we stand totally behind the framework agreement and its 45-day timetable for implementation.'' The deadline is the end of this month.

But the crashing of hijacked passenger planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by suspected Islamic extremists, leaving almost 6,000 dead or missing, is turning into a serious distraction in Macedonia.

Nationalists at the heart of parliamentary delays liken the attacks, which Washington has sworn to avenge by war, with ''Albanian terrorist aggression'' against Macedonia.

The conflict killed about 100 people in seven months and affected about 10 percent of the former Yugoslav republic.

Guerrillas of the National Liberation Army insisted they were fighting only for equal rights for Macedonia's large Albanian minority after years of futile political negotiations.

Pro-government media have also run stories this week tarring the guerrillas by alleged association with the suspected mastermind of the U.S. attacks, Saudi-born Muslim radical Osama bin Laden and his Afghan-based al Qaeda group.

Quoting unspecified sources, the newspapers said al Qaeda acted as the main financier of the Albanians' National Liberation Army and that it had contributed ``mujahideen'' fighters to the NLA identifiable by their beards.

NATO spokesmen have spent much time at news briefings this week batting down the stories, stressing that there is no evidence of links between the NLA and bin Laden.

ALBANIANS 'NOT RELIGIOUS'

NLA commander in chief Ali Ahmeti also denied it in an interview with Reuters Television at his mountain headquarters.

``They are saying things like that to discredit the reasons why the NLA came into being so we will not realize our demands. I am Albanian and we do not judge things on a religious basis.''

Most Albanians are Muslims but strongly secular. More than 90 percent of Macedonian casualties in the conflict were police or soldiers. Guerrillas did not target Macedonian cultural sites, except for an Orthodox church blown up last month.

Skopje and leaders of the rebellious Albanian minority signed coordinated political and military agreements aimed at defusing the Balkans' fifth ethnic conflict since 1991 and stabilizing the whole region over the long term.

But many Macedonians suspect the guerrillas are hiding hardware from NATO to wage separatist war later or that they will stage violence to lure NATO troops into dividing the tiny former Yugoslav republic along an ethnic ``Green Line.''

The NLA turned in more than two thirds of its declared arsenal in the first half of NATO's 30-day disarmament mission expiring September 26. Rebels resumed the handovers Thursday after hesitating in concern over parliament's behavior.

Reporters saw about 120 guerrillas queued up in pairs in the northern NLA highland bastion of Radusa to dump assault and bolt-action rifles and a Strela anti-aircraft missile launcher among other weaponry.

They also surrendered a T-55 tank captured from the Macedonian army in a summer battle.

Referendum threat to Macedonia peace plan Posted September 19, 2001
http://www.portal.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2001/09/19/wmace19.xml

Referendum threat to Macedonia peace plan

By Julius Strauss, Balkans Correspondent
(Filed: 19/09/2001)

MACEDONIAN MPs threatened to derail the Balkans peace plan last night as they considered putting it to a referendum, a procedure that would take months.

Surrendered Albanian weapons are burnt in Athens
Stojan Andov, the hardline parliamentary speaker, tabled the debate despite warnings that such a move would breach the terms of an agreement signed by political leaders a month ago.

With Nato troops due to finish collecting rebel weapons and begin their withdrawal in a week's time, the debate threatens to throw the timetable for a peaceful settlement to the seven-month-old conflict into chaos.

Renato Ruggiero, Italy's Foreign Minister, in Skopje for talks with political leaders, said: "A delay of some months to organise and carry out a referendum seems to us to be a very serious danger for the political stability we are trying to reach."

The move is the latest obstacle thrown up by Macedonian hardliners trying to prevent the implementation of comprehensive reforms that would benefit the ethnic Albanian minority.

In a reciprocal arrangement the rebel National Liberation Army agreed to hand over its weapons in three phases, timed to coincide with the adopting of new laws. The fist two phases are now complete and the third is due to begin this week.

Nato sources said yesterday that the leader of the NLA, Ali Ahmeti, told them his fighters would continue to surrender their weapons even if the Macedonian government stalled a vote on implementing political concessions.

A Nato diplomat said: "We have received a commitment from Ahmeti that the final set of weapons will be turned in regardless of parliamentary action and that means we hope we can conclude the process by the expiry of our mandate on Sept 26."

The NLA is thought to have been heartened by a decision by Macedonian authorities on Monday to allow a small Nato security force to stay on to provide security for unarmed monitors. The decision means that a small British force could remain in the country for months or even years.

Macedonia Rebels to Disarm Unilaterally, Diplomats Say Posted September 18, 2001
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20010918/wl/balkans_macedonia_disarmament_dc_1.html
Tuesday September 18 10:18 AM ET

Macedonia Rebels to Disarm Unilaterally, Diplomats Say

SKOPJE, Macedonia (Reuters) - The leader of ethnic Albanian rebels has told NATO (news - web sites) they will finish disarming without waiting for Macedonia's parliament to start enacting civil rights reforms required by a peace pact, NATO sources said Tuesday.

NATO troops have collected two thirds of the National Liberation Army's declared arsenal but last week put the final phase of disarmament on hold by agreement with the NLA because parliament had not yet reciprocated by launching reforms.

However, Monday, NLA commander in chief Ali Ahmeti told NATO officials that his men would turn in the rest of their firepower unilaterally, a senior NATO diplomat told Reuters.

``We have received a commitment from Ahmeti that the final set of weapons will be turned in regardless of parliamentary action and that means we hope we can conclude the process by the expiry of our mandate on September 26,'' he said.

``We hope for a public statement from him on this today or tomorrow. I think he wants to gain the moral high ground and show he is a man of his word.'' A government decision to accept a follow-on NATO security force may have moved Ahmeti, he said.

Shooting Endangers NATO Troops in Macedonia Posted September 17, 2001
http://us.news2.yimg.com/f/42/31/7m/dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20010917/ts/balkans_macedonia_dc_1.html
Monday September 17 10:03 AM ET

Shooting Endangers NATO Troops in Macedonia
By Mark Heinrich

SKOPJE (Reuters) - NATO (news - web sites) accused Macedonian security forces of provoking a major cease-fire violation at the weekend, endangering alliance troops involved in disarming ethnic Albanian guerrillas under a peace accord.

NATO spokesmen said Monday security police fired light and heavy weapons including grenade launchers into a mainly ethnic Albanian village Sunday night, triggering four-and-half hours of sporadic but heavy shooting exchanges.

No NATO personnel were injured.

But a brigade officer in the guerrilla movement that has voluntarily surrendered two thirds of its declared arsenal to NATO said an 11-year-old boy and 40-year-old man were wounded by the barrage on the village of Semsovo.

The incident occurred about 10 km (six miles) northeast of Tetovo, the country's largest mainly ethnic Albanian city, and 35 km (21 miles) west of the capital Skopje.

``We had NATO troops... in the area who were able to make a comprehensive and accurate observation of events. Their clear conclusion was that the exchanges were initiated by Macedonian police forces,'' said NATO spokesman Mark Laity.

He denied reports by the pro-government media that ''Albanian terrorists'' had attacked the police position. ``In the exchanges that followed, the great majority of fire including the use of heavy weapons came from Macedonian forces. The assessment by NATO liaison teams was that this placed our forces in the area in some danger,'' he told a news conference.

Laity said NATO had taken the matter up with the government and expected urgent action to prevent a recurrence.

The shooting originated from an area between the villages of Zilce and Ratae where Western diplomats say undisciplined police reservists and associated paramilitaries have harassed ethnic Albanians, including demobilized fighters, at checkpoints and triggered numerous bouts of gunfire.

Western officials say unaccountable elements of the security services itching to avenge humiliating territorial losses to guerrillas pose the worst threat to the peace pact, under which minority Albanians are to get better civil rights.

Laity said Macedonian security units subjected the village to two sustained rounds of gunfire before anyone fired back.

``This incident emphasizes again that at this sensitive fragile time there is a need for (local) forces to be totally controlled. (Weapons-collections) require maximum restraint. This is the worst possible time for provocations.''

VIOLENCE COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE

Major Alexander Dick said such violence was ``not conducive'' to guerrillas disarming voluntarily and Laity said the longer it persisted, the longer it would take for Macedonians displaced from areas taken by rebels to return home in safety. Earlier Sunday, three off-duty Macedonian policemen were beaten up after going into an Albanian shop in Vratnica, 12 miles north of Ratae, to buy a tractor tire.

``Our assessment is that this had no connection with the subsequent shooting. It was just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,'' Dick said. But the weekend violence underscored ethnic enmities that simmer on.

Plans are being drawn up for a small NATO security force to deter violence so that international monitors who will oversee the return of Macedonian institutions and refugees to guerrilla zones can operate free of intimidation.

The government had ruled out a longer-term NATO presence, believing it would mutate into a ``Green Line'' behind which Albanian separatists would cement a breakaway fiefdom ethnically cleansed of Macedonians.

Western sponsors remain concerned about the solidity of the peace accord because Macedonia's parliament is hesitating to pass constitutional amendments to improve the status of the large Albanian minority.

Proposal Complicates Macedonia Plan Posted September 17, 2001
http://us.news2.yimg.com/f/42/31/7m/dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/20010917/wl/macedonia_621.html
Monday September 17 1:57 AM ET

Proposal Complicates Macedonia Plan
By ALEKSANDAR VASOVIC, Associated Press Writer

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) - A proposal to hold a referendum on the country's peace plan has complicated a fragile process already threatened by isolated gunfights between ethnic Albanian rebels and Macedonian forces.

Police said Sunday that rebels from the ethnic Albanian village of Semsovo - about four miles northeast of Tetovo - had exchanged fire with Macedonian forces in the neighboring village of Zilce. The fighting came a day before parliament was to debate a proposal to hold a referendum on the peace plan, which commits parliament to passing constitutional reforms to grant ethnic Albanians more rights in exchange for a commitment by ethnic Albanian militants to hand over arms to NATO (news - web sites) troops.

Critics argue that if lawmakers shift responsibility for reforms to a reluctant Macedonian public, the pact could unravel.

Under the internationally mediated peace plan, lawmakers are supposed to pass the constitutional reforms within 45 days of the Aug. 27 start of NATO's operation to collect weapons handed over by ethnic Albanian rebels.

In the step-by-step process, parliament was to work toward adopting the constitutional changes as the weapons were collected. More than two-thirds of the 3,300 weapons offered by the rebels have been gathered. Parliament must now discuss the constitutional amendments before the alliance can proceed with the final phase of arms collection.

The referendum motion, brought by the small New Democracy party, needs a simple majority of 61 votes in the 120-seat parliament to pass.

Branko Crvenkovski, leader of the key pro-western Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia, warned that his party could pull out of the fragile government coalition if parliament approves the referendum proposal.

Just hours before Sunday's flare-up, Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski said authorities planned to start returning Macedonians who had fled real or feared violence to ethnic-Albanian populated villages in the Tetovo region.

Buckovski said efforts should begin on Tuesday, with the first group returning to the village of Tearce, just north of Tetovo - an area of repeated clashes during the six-month ethnic Albanian insurrection. Returns to Lesok and Neprosteno - also north of Tetovo - would follow, Buckovski said during a visit to Tearce.

Some 120,000 people were driven from their homes after ethnic Albanian militants launched an insurgency in February.

U.N. refugee officials said last week that some 30,000 ethnic Albanians had returned home since the signing of a cease-fire more than a month ago.

Fearing ethnically motivated reprisals, Macedonians are still afraid to return. The planned homecomings should test whether the two sides are ready to live side by side.

Macedonia Asks NATO to Keep Troops Posted September 15, 2001
http://us.news2.yimg.com/f/42/31/7m/dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/20010915/wl/macedonia_614.html
Saturday September 15 11:56 AM ET

Macedonia Asks NATO to Keep Troops
By ALEKSANDAR VASOVIC, Associated Press Writer

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) - Macedonia's government has asked NATO (news - web sites) to keep some troops in the troubled Balkan country even after the expiration of its mandate to collect ethnic Albanian rebel weapons, government officials said Saturday.

Macedonia has requested that NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson keep 350 troops in the country to protect monitors who will assess the situation after the 4,700 troops of Operation Essential Harvest end their mission on Sept. 26, the government sources said on condition of anonymity.

NATO found the government's proposals ``very constructive and useful,'' alliance spokesman Mark Laity said, but he declined to say what the proposals were.

A spokesman at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Yves Brodeur, said no formal request had been received yet.

NATO has said it is reviewing its options as to what form any new mission would take.

Such a contingent would be used to protect civilian monitors in tense regions.

``We do not wish to have a vacuum,'' Laity said.

Brodeur said a protection-monitoring force would not necessarily need any U.N. sanction or approval.

``NATO would act if asked by Macedonia,'' he said, adding that any new operation would involve ``an entirely new process.''

During a visit to Macedonia on Friday, Robertson said the country remains high on the agenda of the world's leaders despite the intense focus on terror attacks in Washington and New York.

Robertson also said he had recently spoken by telephone with President Bush (news - web sites) about Macedonian issues.

``Despite the obvious preoccupations that he shares with the American people, he still had time to talk to me about the peace process in Macedonia,'' Robertson said.

Robertson urged Macedonia's political leaders to seize the chance to achieve peace, and he underlined his support for a plan that envisages the voluntary surrender of rebel weapons in exchange for constitutional changes granting the ethnic Albanian minority more rights.

About one third of Macedonia's 2 million people are ethnic Albanians.

NATO chief warns Skopje against delaying peace deal Posted September 15, 2001
http://sg.news.yahoo.com/010914/1/1geki.html
Saturday September 15, 1:55 AM

NATO chief warns Skopje against delaying peace deal

SKOPJE, Sept 14 (AFP) -
NATO Secretary General George Robertson warned the Macedonian parliament Friday not to delay putting the peace plan into effect, saying talk of a referendum on the accord was a "wrecking amendment."

With the accord due to be adopted in less than two weeks, Robertson said the August 13 framework peace agreement should be passed its entirety and that delays would only prevent displaced people from returning home.

"This referendum idea seems simply to have been floated as an idea to derail that process and not to reinforce it," he said.

"Those, like me, who care about the people who have been displaced from their homes should be warned that if this amendment is passed then it will simply take longer and longer for these people to go home."

"This is not a democratic amendment, this is a wrecking amendment," he said.

Parliament is due to begin debating within days 36 constitutional amendments that would turn most of the peace agreement into law and it has to finish that job and ratify the new constitution by September 27.

But it remains unclear when the assembly, where nationalists oppose giving extra rights to the country's large ethnic Albanian minority, will resume debate on the changes required by the plan.

Complicating the process is a proposal that a referendum be held on the accord, in which the nation's population of two million would be asked to vote. Albanians make up between a quarter and a third of the population.

Parliamentary sources say debate on the amendments, the second stage of the peace plan, may not resume until the middle of next week, after the referendum proposal is discussed.

Robertson said the speaker of the assembly, the nationalist Stojan Andov, had told him that the political requirements of the agreement could be fulfilled with "only a slippage of a few days on the original time-table."

"I make it clear now to the Macedonian people, the displaced people will not get home in peace and in safety until that parliamentary process has finished," he said.

"If parliamentarians make long speeches, they will be talking people out of their homes."

Robertson also urged the assembly to introduce legislation on an amnesty to rebels from the National Liberation Army (NLA) who disarm and are not suspected of war crimes, saying a serious crisis would develop without it.

NATO said its Operation Essential Harvest had by Thursday collected more than two-thirds of the weapons held by the NLA under the peace plan aimed at boosting ethnic Albanian rights and ending a seven-month rebel insurgency.

Earlier the NATO chief had said that Task Force Harvest, which aims to collect a total of 3,300 NLA arms by September 26, would finish the job once parliament meets its obligations by passing the amendments.

Once that task is completed, the assembly is due to adopt the modified constitution as a complete document by September 27, effectively turning many elements of the peace accord into law.

The agreement grants an amnesty for most rebels who disarm, makes Albanian an official language in some areas, provides more minority jobs in the police force and administration and gives wider powers to local government.

Robertson also said he had held talks with Macedonian officials on what kind of international force should remain when NATO starts pulling out at the end of the month and would take their proposals back to Brussels.

The EU's Balkans envoy said on Friday that Brussels remains at odds with Macedonia over the exact mission of any international force. The EU wants any such force to be deployed to protect foreign observers, while Skopje wants it restricted to border areas, Francois Leotard told AFP.

NATO chief warns Skopje against delaying peace deal Posted September 14, 2001
http://sg.news.yahoo.com/010914/1/1geki.html
Saturday September 15, 1:55 AM

NATO chief warns Skopje against delaying peace deal

SKOPJE, Sept 14 (AFP) -
NATO Secretary General George Robertson warned the Macedonian parliament Friday not to delay putting the peace plan into effect, saying talk of a referendum on the accord was a "wrecking amendment."

With the accord due to be adopted in less than two weeks, Robertson said the August 13 framework peace agreement should be passed its entirety and that delays would only prevent displaced people from returning home.

"This referendum idea seems simply to have been floated as an idea to derail that process and not to reinforce it," he said.

"Those, like me, who care about the people who have been displaced from their homes should be warned that if this amendment is passed then it will simply take longer and longer for these people to go home."

"This is not a democratic amendment, this is a wrecking amendment," he said.

Parliament is due to begin debating within days 36 constitutional amendments that would turn most of the peace agreement into law and it has to finish that job and ratify the new constitution by September 27.

But it remains unclear when the assembly, where nationalists oppose giving extra rights to the country's large ethnic Albanian minority, will resume debate on the changes required by the plan.

Complicating the process is a proposal that a referendum be held on the accord, in which the nation's population of two million would be asked to vote. Albanians make up between a quarter and a third of the population.

Parliamentary sources say debate on the amendments, the second stage of the peace plan, may not resume until the middle of next week, after the referendum proposal is discussed.

Robertson said the speaker of the assembly, the nationalist Stojan Andov, had told him that the political requirements of the agreement could be fulfilled with "only a slippage of a few days on the original time-table."

"I make it clear now to the Macedonian people, the displaced people will not get home in peace and in safety until that parliamentary process has finished," he said.

"If parliamentarians make long speeches, they will be talking people out of their homes."

Robertson also urged the assembly to introduce legislation on an amnesty to rebels from the National Liberation Army (NLA) who disarm and are not suspected of war crimes, saying a serious crisis would develop without it.

NATO said its Operation Essential Harvest had by Thursday collected more than two-thirds of the weapons held by the NLA under the peace plan aimed at boosting ethnic Albanian rights and ending a seven-month rebel insurgency.

Earlier the NATO chief had said that Task Force Harvest, which aims to collect a total of 3,300 NLA arms by September 26, would finish the job once parliament meets its obligations by passing the amendments.

Once that task is completed, the assembly is due to adopt the modified constitution as a complete document by September 27, effectively turning many elements of the peace accord into law.

The agreement grants an amnesty for most rebels who disarm, makes Albanian an official language in some areas, provides more minority jobs in the police force and administration and gives wider powers to local government.

Robertson also said he had held talks with Macedonian officials on what kind of international force should remain when NATO starts pulling out at the end of the month and would take their proposals back to Brussels.

The EU's Balkans envoy said on Friday that Brussels remains at odds with Macedonia over the exact mission of any international force. The EU wants any such force to be deployed to protect foreign observers, while Skopje wants it restricted to border areas, Francois Leotard told AFP.