FIGHTING IN MACEDONIA
Last update 1 Oct. 2001
Don't Delay In Macedonia
EU ministers support long term force in Macedonia
NATO Says Macedonia Rebels Disarmed, Seek Reforms
|The Washington Post|
Two years ago today, talks to prevent a war in Kosovo collapsed. The government of Slobodan Milosevic then used massed troops to begin a rampage of ethnic cleansing and murder. NATO initiated its bombing campaign on the principle that security in Europe rests on peace and the rule of law across the Balkans.
But on this anniversary, we are seeing ominous signs of a new wave of Balkan conflict. The rapid escalation of fighting in northern Macedonia in recent days demands a prompt Western response in order to maintain the integrity of a multi-ethnic Macedonia. Hesitation or delay in the face of Macedonia's mounting problems will only make matters worse; in the near term, NATO is the only institution that can act effectively to move the situation from confrontation to dialogue. KFOR and NATO elements inside Macedonia must work closely with the Macedonia government to interdict the flow of arms and fighters across the border.
We must make clear to the government of Macedonia that it too is under close scrutiny. The use of force alone will only worsen the underlying problem, not resolve it.
The longer-term solution rests on Macedonian commitment not just to say the right things about the Albanian minority but to follow through with actions. Discussion of the constitutional status of Macedonian Albanians and other minorities should begin without delay in Macedonia's parliament. Greater attention to underlying problems -- education, health, housing and economic opportunity -- among Macedonian Albanians is urgently required. The international community can and should help make this happen. Later this year, Macedonia will conduct a new and hotly debated census. The international community should monitor this census to make sure that it is seen to be fair and includes all who see Macedonia as their home.
The causes of Albanian discontent in Macedonia are real. But they are inflamed by a broader problem, whose effects are also destabilizing southern Serbia and Kosovo itself, and that is the crippling slowness of progress toward real self-government for the people of Kosovo.
The apparent slowness of progress has helped give birth to a new generation of Albanian extremists, from bombings in Kosovo to shootouts in southern Serbia to fighting in Macedonia. They are armed, organized and too eager to fight -- for they see nothing to gain from patience and peace. As Kosovo's friend, I want to say clearly that the actions of the radicals -- and the Albanian diaspora that supports them -- are only undermining Kosovo's chance at a freer and more peaceful future.
We and our NATO allies must help Kosovo's leaders show that moderation, not extremism, is the key to progress. Kosovo's new leaders, and its people, must know that NATO will not step in again to protect them, this time from the consequences of their own extremist actions. There is a great danger that radicalized Albanians will now do what Milosevic no longer can: destabilize Macedonia and push ahead with the ethnic cleansing of parts of Kosovo. And the people of Kosovo should have no illusions: Renewed conflict will postpone, not hasten, the day when they can take full charge of their own affairs.
Instead of speeding Kosovo's self-government, violence adds to the impression that Kosovo is ungovernable.
Instead of reinforcing the need for NATO's presence, the streams of fighters out of Kosovo hearten those who say Kosovo does not deserve NATO and especially U.S. protection.
And instead of making Kosovo central to the plan for long-term peace in the Balkans, the current insurgencies suggest that strengthening Kosovo's autonomy will lead to war in Macedonia and constant struggle with Serbia. That is the wrong message.
But blaming the Kosovars is not a policy; others, including the United States and our NATO allies, have responsibilities which we must meet.
In Kosovo and along the border with Serbia, KFOR must prevent provocations and provide support for European Union monitors on the ground. International negotiators must insist that local Albanians have a place at the negotiating table with KFOR and Belgrade, and work toward a shared solution that ends fighting in the area. Failure to respond authoritatively only encourages the extremists -- and increases the danger to our troops.
Ultimately, the international community must recognize that the nub of the problem is the continuing delay in moving the province toward democratic self-rule and the resolution of its final status. Troubles across the region are unlikely to ebb until Kosovars are fully engaged in building up their own institutions. Stabilizing Kosovo means following through on our promises and holding elections for a legislative body with real powers; moving forward on the transition to self-government; and committing to a clear timetable for final status negotiations.
Kosovo's people deserve self-rule. Albanians elsewhere -- Macedonia, southern Serbia -- deserve fair and lawful treatment. It is in the profound interest of the United States and our allies to see that they get it quickly. But Kosovo's leaders and its people must show understanding that Albanians have nothing to gain -- and everything to lose -- by exporting or inflaming conflict in the Balkans.
Retired Gen. Clark, a board member of the International Crisis Group, was supreme allied commander in Europe.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
GENVAL Sept 8: European Union foreign ministers
meeting near Brussels voiced support on Saturday for a longer-term international
force in Macedonia after the current NATO mission ends.
NATO says its 4,500 troops will pull out of the tiny Balkan state when they have finished collecting arms from ethnic Albanian rebels. Its mission is due to end on September 26.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called for a NATO-led force with a United Nations mandate to take over then.
"We'd be strongly in favour of a mandate given by the U.N. Security Council and executed by NATO plus some others," he said in an interview with the New York Times, published just before the 15 ministers began a two-day informal brainstorming session.
"We need a lot of civilian monitors but they must be protected," Fischer said. He called for a "robust but limited" force to back up civilian monitors.
Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique said his country was prepared to extend its presence in the former Yugoslav republic to avoid a security vacuum when the NATO mandate expires.
"Our troops could stay (in Macedonia) for two or three months longer," he told reporters on arrival at the lakeside conference hotel.
The EU, whose member states have contributed the bulk of the current NATO force, has taken the diplomatic lead in brokering the peace deal between the Macedonian government and the country's large ethnic Albanian minority.
NO SUPPORT FOR EU COMMAND: But diplomats said there was no support for EU Macedonia envoy Francois Leotard's proposal that the Union should take command of a 1,500-strong force to follow on from the NATO mission. Leotard was not invited to the Genval meeting.
The EU ministers will discuss what possible shape a future force could take at a session on Sunday. But diplomats said the bloc's embryonic defence force was not yet operational and it was vital to keep the United States involved.
"We will discuss the possibilities in order to avoid a security vacuum...after NATO forces have completed their mission," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, just back from a two-day trip to Macedonia.
"Europe will stay engaged in all fields, economically, politically and in the security field," Solana said, stressing he did not expect decisions this weekend.
An influential non-government organisation called for a NATO follow-on force with a robust mandate capable of protecting international monitors, escorting refugees back to their homes if necessary across militia roadblocks, and sealing Macedonia's borders with Kosovo, Albania and southern Serbia.
The International Crisis Group said in a report issued on Saturday: "The war is for the moment on hold but Macedonia is very far from being at peace."
Former NATO supreme commander General Wesley Clark, who was in command during the Kosovo war, told an ICG news conference: "The best practical way is an extension of the NATO mission, But it is not clear if political leaders in the nations are prepared to carry the freight one more time in the Balkans."
Earlier this week, Macedonia's parliament - under heavy NATO and EU pressure - grudgingly approved a package of reforms designed to improve the status of the ethnic Albanian minority.
EU officials said the most difficult part of the implementation of last month's peace accord still lay ahead when parliament dominated by the ethnic Macedonian minority has to finally adopt the entire reform package by a two-thirds majority and the rebels hand over a last haul of arms and disband.-Reuters
September 25, 2001 05:50 PM ET
By Mark Heinrich
EREBINO, Macedonia (Reuters) - NATO declared on Tuesday it had successfully completed disarmament of Albanian rebels in Macedonia, but diplomats said the government showed no sign of speeding up reforms crucial to a fragile peace accord.
A NATO mission to dismantle the National Liberation Army, which rose up in a quest to improve the rights of minority Albanians, had exceeded its collection target of 3,300 weapons, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said.
But with NATO's "Essential Harvest" mandate expiring on Wednesday, parliament had still not reciprocated as required by the August peace accord to overhaul Macedonia's ethnocentric constitution and enact an amnesty for the guerrillas.
"Task Force Harvest has not only reached its target but exceeded it... The confirmed total (now) is 3,381 and the final figure should be higher still," Robertson told a news conference at a base for alliance troops close to cease-fire lines in northwestern Macedonia.
He said the mission, dogged by "skepticism, criticism and a lot of doubt" at its outset, had proved "a resounding success".
But he said parliament had to honor its side of the bargain to uphold a strenuous international effort to defuse the fifth conflict since 1991 in the area of old communist Yugoslavia and buttress shaky democracies across the region.
"This is not a time for complacency. We are not at the end of the road (to peace)," said Robertson, who has visited Macedonia repeatedly to check on progress in the arms roundup and prod Skopje's politicians to get cracking on reforms.
PETTY OBSTRUCTIONS TO PEACE
"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 (six weeks ago)," Robertson said.
"Failure to implement this agreement would confront the people of this country with the bleak prospect of a descent into civil war. It's up to the parliament of this country to turn the people's hopes into political reality."
Robertson made these points in talks with government and parliamentary leaders earlier on Tuesday, but Western diplomats who took part said the Macedonians were not very receptive.
"The response was enigmatic. It doesn't look like parliament will speed up," one diplomat told Reuters.
After two weeks of stalling, the parliament approved 15 amendments in principle on Monday, but by lackluster minimum majorities well short of the two-thirds margin they will need at the final ratification stage.
The legislators now plan 10 days of deliberation on the fine print before going to a ratification vote. But on Tuesday they began to debate whether to submit the reforms to a referendum -- a gambit denounced by the West as a deal-wrecker.
Nationalists with a slim majority in parliament vow to dilute some of the draft clauses. But Albanians say this, or a possible decision by the assembly to put the package to a referendum, would sabotage the accord and reignite conflict.
Western officials fear the longer the delays, the greater the chances for radicals -- both separatist elements of the NLA and Macedonian paramilitaries -- to exploit a climate of drift and uncertainty to tip the country back into conflict.
Many Macedonians, swayed by rumor-mongering nationalist media, believe the peace accord is a Trojan horse for Macedonia's dismemberment along ethnic lines with the connivance of a supposedly pro-Albanian West.
Western envoys have struggled to dispel that impression, saying Skopje can save the country only if it stops barring Albanians from a meaningful share of power, a role in policing their communities and the means to express their culture.
But constitutional amendments to make that possible have been held up by legislators with three key concerns.
There is fear for Macedonia's majority Orthodox identity amid historically predatory neighbors, a conviction that the peace pact "capitulates to terrorism", and an anxiety not to look "unpatriotic" to voters before elections early next year.
They also suspect the NLA has hidden considerable weaponry and will stage incidents to draw a planned follow-on NATO security force into policing an ethnic "Green Line".
NATO insists that will not happen, citing international and Albanian commitments to Macedonia's territorial integrity. It concedes illegal arms will remain in the hands of both sides but says that problem is endemic across the Balkans.
Robertson also warned that Albanian confidence in the peace process would fade without an amnesty for the guerrillas.
"The simple reality is that there will not be a lasting solution in this country unless an amnesty is part of it and we expect it to be enshrined in law in some way."
Without an amnesty, Western analysts warn, ethnic Albanians in current occupied areas will rely on NATO for protection, lending credence to Macedonian conspiracy theories.
NATO's policy-making council was expected on Wednesday to authorize a force of several hundred troops to protect international peace monitors from intimidation by extremists as they oversee the reintegration of rebel territory.
They would replace the 4,500 weapons collectors who will start pulling out later this week.
Robertson said the force would be "small but capable".