Grand Coalition adopted
On Sunday 13 May, Parliament elected a new coalition government in Macedonia in an attempt to end the recent outbreaks of violence and restore stability to the country. The government was approved by a landslide majority of 104 in favour to four against and one abstention.
The creation of the "Grand Coalition" remained uncertain until the last minute, when the Albanian (former opposition) party PPD under Imer Imeri withdrew from the proceedings in objection to Prime Minister Ljubčo Georgievski's use of the term "terrorist" to describe the rebels. They returned after being counselled by several ambassadors and agreed to join the coalition.
The new coalition gives the government more than the two-thirds majority within parliament required to pass any new laws—theoretically making the constitutional reform a possibility. However, it remains to be seen how these parties, which have adopted such opposing tactics and policies previously, will work in practice.
The newly reformed cabinet looks as follows:
- Prime Minister: Ljubčo Georgivski
- Minister for Interior Affairs: Ljube Boškovski
- Minister for Foreign Affairs: Ilinka Miteva
- Minister for Defence: Vlado Bučkovski
- Minister for Justice: Izdet Mehmeti
- Minister for Finance: Nikola Gruevski
- Minister for Transport and Communications: Ljubčo Balkoski
- Minister for Labor and Social Policy: Bedredin Ibrahimi
- Minister for Culture: Ganka Samoilova-Cvetanovska
- Minister for Local Self-Government: Faik Aslani
- Minister for Economy: Besnik Fetai
- Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Water Resource Management: Marjan Gjorčev
- Minister for Education and Science: Nenad Novkovski
- Minister for Health: Petar Miloševski
- Minister for Environment and Planning: Vladimir Dzabirski
- Ministers without Portfolio:
Premier Georgievski outlined the agenda of the new government as a four-pronged approach:
- To fight "terrorism" and set up special military units to do so (the latter clause of this was strongly contested by PPD)
- To continue the all-party talks under the leadership of President Boris Trajkovski
- To organise early legislative elections for the beginning of 2002
- To carry out basic reforms
The new government has been hailed and commended as a step towards resolving the situation by all appropriate well-wishers, including: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Swedish Presidency of the EU, NATO and Russia.
While on the military front...
The Macedonian security forces continued to shell UÇKombtare positions behind Kumanovo throughout the first half of the week, yet the rebels denied having sustained injury or losses. An Albanian from Debar (Dibër), Gezim Ostreni, who fought in Kosovo for the original UÇK (KLA) and was until recently serving in the civilian TMK has been announced as the military commander of UÇKombtare.
During Tuesday's ceasefire, over 100 civilians were evacuated from the predominantly Albanian villages of Vakcince, Lipkovo and Slupçane, near Kumanovo which are currently the location of the fighting. The villagers were evacuated by the Red Cross, and the majority denied having been held as human shields by the rebel fighters as was widely reported by domestic and international media. Some villagers said that the fighters were family members defending their homes against attack, but this was unverified.
It seems almost certain that some of the fighters have crossed into Macedonia from Preševo, and it is probable that there are others from Kosovo. Whether these were or are accompanied by local men is unknown.
Thus far, the Kumanovo branch of the Red Cross has registered 2300 temporarily displaced people. Obviously, this figure does not include any persons who are staying with family so it seems likely therefore that the actual figure is considerably higher.
On 15 May, the new Macedonian government issued a final ultimatum to all civilians still within the conflict zone and to all rebels within the territory of Macedonia: to leave before noon, 17 May.
After this deadline, government spokesperson Antonio Milošoski announced that "adequate measures" would be taken towards the "total elimination of danger."
After the ceasefire deadline elapsed, it was declared that the truce would continue for an unspecified period because it appeared to be "bringing results." The EU and the foreign ministers of Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Turkey and Yugoslavia appealed to the Macedonian government to use force in proportion to the threat posed by the rebel groups, bolstering the opinion of many Albanians in Macedonia that the force used previously to crush the rebels in Tetovo and now those in Kumanovo was excessive and caused unnecessary damage to civilian property.
This illustrates the difficult position faced by Albanians who, while they may not support the methods of UÇK, do not support the methods employed against them either.
President Trajkovski addresses the nation
In a public address this week, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski stated unequivocally that there was no way for the terrorists to win. He promised displaced civilians from the Kumanovo-Lipkovo region that their situation was temporary and they were assured a safe return to their homes after the terrorists are defeated.
He appealed to the nation not to fall prey to cynical exploitation of civilian casualties by rebel elements trying to rouse anger and discontent among the population. This was received somewhat ambivalently by many Albanians who consider the claim that civilians are being used as human shields to be just such cynical exploitation.
And in other news...
- Parliament approved the Law on the Population Census, postponing the census date from 15 May to 15 October 2001
- The South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) annual Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs was held on 16 May in Tirana, and was attended by the newly appointed Macedonian Foreign Minister, Ilinka Mitreva. The agenda covered the regional situation (focussing on recent events in Macedonia) future mutual steps in the fight against illegal migration and organised crime, and the realisation of the Stability Pact.
Eleanor Pritchard, 18 May 2001
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