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[ALBSA-Info] ANALYSIS-Crunch time for Macedonian peace initiative

Gazhebo at Gazhebo at
Sun Jun 17 22:02:52 EDT 2001

ANALYSIS-Crunch time for Macedonian peace initiative

By Daniel Simpson

SKOPJE, June 14 (Reuters) - There is an agreed plan on the table to prevent 
Macedonia fragmenting in yet another Balkan ethnic war. The only problem is 
making it work. 

Western powers queuing up to help hold Macedonia together before an ethnic 
Albanian rebellion rips it apart for good are losing patience with an 
emergency unity government they helped form, but which has yet to deliver 
what they advocate. 

A shaky ceasefire proposed by the army after rebels threatened to shell the 
capital, Skopje, has held for three days while the government struggles to 
devise incentives for the rebels to give up without incensing the Slav 

NATO head George Robertson and European Union security chief Javier Solana 
fly to Skopje on Thursday to urge Macedonia's leaders to maintain the truce, 
flesh out peace proposals and agree rapidly on concessions to the one-third 
Albanian minority. 

"EU patience is running out," a senior Western diplomat said, pointing to the 
June 25 deadline Solana set the coalition to produce concrete results. "They 
need to get on with it." 

After talks with Robertson and Solana, whose frequent trips to Skopje have 
nursed the new government through a fractious first month, leaders of the 
main Macedonian Slav and Albanian parties will retreat to a lakeside resort 
for a two-day summit. 

For the first time in the four-month-old conflict, they will be locked away 
without Western intermediaries but can have few doubts about what they are 
expected to achieve. 

It sounds simple. Albanians want the constitution rewritten to give them and 
their language formal status, more jobs in public administration and more 
state-funded media and education. 

If the government can swallow these bitter pills, which would be tough to 
sell to the Slav majority with gunmen still at large, and devise a workable 
amnesty plan, then support for rebels who claim to fight for ethnic rights 
would be undercut. 

Or so the theory goes. 


The big problem is how to deal with a rebel force which keeps killing 
soldiers. The government has branded the guerrilla National Liberation Army 
(NLA) terrorists and refuses to consider talks with its leaders. 

But the ceasefire it called on Monday, and a cautious test of confidence it 
is trying to implement, has brought the issue to a head. 

For the past three days an aid convoy has been blocked from leaving Kumanovo, 
a government-controlled town on the edge of the battle zone, to ferry food 
and medicine to civilians holed up in rebel-held villages during six weeks of 
army shelling. 

The idea was to swap aid for access to a reservoir behind rebel lines to 
reconnect Kumanovo's water supply, cut off for eight days. But the rebels 
wanted journalists to come too, to check their assertions that they had not 
turned off the taps. 

The government cannot stomach being seen to give in to rebel demands, but may 
have to or lose the chance to turn on the water. "They want others to 
negotiate this for them, but it has to be up to them in the end," a 
diplomatic source said. 

More important is the question of how to persuade the rebels to quit. A U.S. 
diplomat working for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe 
was asked to leave Skopje for brokering talks between the rebels and Albanian 

But the prospect of an amnesty he touted for the guerrillas has since been 
publicly backed by Western leaders and is part of the plan unveiled by 
President Boris Trajkovski last week. 

There is a problem, though. An ambush on police violated the conflict's first 
joint truce on Monday -- an act for which the NLA chief of staff later 
expressed regret -- and diplomats worry the rebels may be too disunited to 
strike a solid deal. 

"We are accustomed to thinking of the NLA as a coordinated group like some 
kind of alternative government, but there are indications that may not be the 
case," a diplomatic source said. 


Thursday's summit talks in the southern town of Ohrid aim to flesh out 
Trajkovski's proposal, which remains thin on details. 

At a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, leaders of top NATO member states 
called for bolder action to defuse the crisis but rushed to dispel 
speculation they planned military intervention. 

Troops could, however, be asked to act as intermediaries overseeing rebel 
disarmament and the return of Macedonian security forces to rebel-held areas, 
diplomats said. 

Equally pressing are reforms needed to appease Albanians, without which the 
NLA is unlikely to disarm. But agreement will be difficult as Slavs fear 
constitutional concessions may unlock calls for autonomy and split up the 
country anyway. 

After a week which included the killing of five soldiers in an ambush, 
retaliatory burning of Albanian homes and government threats to declare a 
state of war, compromise is hard to reach. 

"Rewriting the constitution would take a few hours and could be ratified by 
parliament next week," one senior diplomat mused. 

If only Balkan peacemaking were so simple. 

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