Grand Coalition on the agenda
Much media attention this week has focused on the creation of a "Grand Coalition" between the existing governmental coalition and the largest of the opposition parties, in the interest of national unity and security. The enthusiasm of the opposition parties SDSM (led by Branko Crvenkovski, former Macedonian Prime Minister) and the Albanian PPD (led by Imer Imeri) has fluctuated since the expanded coalition was suggested—and this week has been no exception...
Much attention has been paid to the perceived "cost" (in terms of ministerial positions) of the coalition to the extant VMRO coalition, and estimates have varied wildly both in number and the actual ministerial positions demanded. However, even in the shakiest moments of negotiation, the international bodies (OSCE, EU, NATO) have stood squarely behind the government and the principle of the coalition.
The benefit of the expanded coalition will be the control over two thirds of the Macedonian Parliament and, therefore, the ability to pass laws unimpeded by the constitutional clause which demands a two-thirds majority to enact legislation.
The process of coalition formation was stalled by PPD later in the week, as (despite having assured Javier Solana and George Robertson that they would join the coalition) they dragged their heels and insisted they had only voiced support for the "principle of the coalition," rather than giving a declaration of intent. PPD insists on a Macedonian cease-fire as a prior condition for joining the coalition.
The Albanian extremists National Liberation Army has totally rejected the idea of a broader coalition, saying that it must be included in any political dialogue aimed at resolving the situation. The Macedonian government has repeatedly stated that it refuses to sit in negotiations with "terrorists."
At the time of writing, the most recent "unofficial" information places the ministerial positions thus: SDSM will assume the Ministries of Defence, Foreign Affairs, Health and Ecology, the influential posts of State Secretary of Internal Affairs, Director of Security and Intelligence Office, four deputy ministerial positions currently held by VMRO-DPMNE and six directorships in public enterprises, funds and agencies. The controversial post of Interior Minister will remain in possession of VMRO-DPMNE.
Today (Friday), PPD General Secretary Muhamed Halili announced (apparently without the sanction of Central Party Leadership) that PPD would join the coalition. Prime Minister Lubčo Georgievski greeted the announcement by stressing that no cessation of war activities was on the agenda, and that the new government would convene in parliament tomorrow with or without the attendance of PPD leader Imer Imeri.
Military offensive continues
On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Macedonian Army reported that up to 1000 Albanian extremists have been killed since the beginning of the Security Forces joint operation in February. Latest figures released by the army suggest that between 1500 and 2000 extremists are operating in the Kumanovo region, and intensive bombardment of their positions has continued throughout the week, focusing on the village of Slupcane. Slupcane forces retook after an extended barrage in which they believe some 20 extremists were killed.
Much concern has been voiced by Albanian media at reports that extremists are using (Albanian) civilians from the villages as human shields. Torn between disbelief (that the fighters would hide behind their "own") and anger (that, if this is the case, the Macedonian security forces have continued to shell the villages), there has been no clear confirmation either way on this emotive issue. It is certain that, despite the temporary cease-fires held to facilitate the evacuation of the civilian population, considerable numbers (including women and children) remain in the villages, but their acquiescence in the matter is uncertain.
A five-hour cease-fire was honored on Thursday morning between 5 and 10 am to allow civilian evacuation. However, the buses supplied to evacuate civilians returned empty, as the local population announced that it was afraid to leave and head towards the Macedonian Security forces, from whom it fears reprisals for the extremists' actions.
Refugees and displaced persons
Since violence broke out in the Kumanovo region, the local Red Cross has registered 1300 IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) from the region, most of whom are ethnic Macedonians, but a percentage of whom are Serbs and few Albanians.
2500 people have left Macedonia for Kosovo via "Blace" border crossing this week and it is assumed that many more have crossed the border via illegal border crossings. MTV reports that these refugees are mainly Albanian women and children.
On Thursday, a UNHCR spokeswoman in Belgrade said that the latest departures bring the total number of civilians who have entered Kosovo since the violence began in February to approx. 16,000.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana started a two-day visit to Skopje to discuss the expanded coalition and the current crisis situation.
NATO's Commander for Southern Europe Admiral James Ellis met the Macedonian Chief-of-Staff General Jovan Andrevski to discuss potential support for Macedonian peacekeeping efforts, in terms of logistics, training and equipment.
NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson traveled to Skopje for talks on the crisis.
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić visited Skopje for talks with Macedonian Prime Minister Georgijevski to offer support for the ending of extremist violence in the country.
EU Commissioner Chris Patten started a two-day visit to Macedonia.
Eleanor Pritchard, 11 May 2001
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