Agreement between Albanian NLA and Coalition Parties
The country was shocked this week by the revelation that Arbën Xhaferi's PDSh-NDP and Imer Imeri's PPD had signed a platform with NLA political spokesman Ali Ahmeti. The agreement appears to promise a cessation of violence in exchange for some kind of stake in the inter-party dialogue and a fight to veto any agreements reached by the new expanded coalition.
The agreement was instantly criticised by Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minster Ljubčo Georgievski who both cited it as an example of poor judgement on behalf of the Albanian parties and asked for them to rescind their signatures and condemn the NLA. The agreement comes after the repeated refusals of the government to consider negotiations with the terrorists; and Xhaferi's call on 15 May for the NLA to be included in negotiations, which appeared to reflect the increasing frustration of the Albanian political parties with the stalling discussions.
There has been a mixed interpretation of the agreement in political and media circles; with some (including Government Spokesman Antonio Milošoski) stating that the rebels had 'dropped their masks' (ie implying that this was simply the publicisation of a long standing relationship and co-operation between Albanian parties and the NLA), and others seeing it as the start of a new co-operation, the outcome of which is utterly uncertain. Whether the government knew about the agreement before it was signed is also a bone of contention. Imeri says that the 'government' (of which he and Xhaferi are still a part) knew in advance, while the ethnic Macedonian section of the governmental coalition says it absolutely did not know.
The international community was also quick to damn the agreement, with all the predictable figures adding their voices to the throng, including OSCE Special Balkans Envoy Robert Frowick, NATO Secretary General George Robertson and EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana.
Diplomats are now believed to be negotiating with Imeri and Xhaferi in an attempt to reach an acceptable resolution for all parties.
Fighting stepped up in Kumanovo
After a brief cease-fire, fighting escalated again in the mountains behind Kumanovo in the north of the country. The fighting is focused around the villages of Orizar, Opaje, Vaksince and Sllupçanje and has been some of the heaviest since the conflict began. The Macedonian security forces have deployed artillery and two army helicopters against the paramilitaries and are claiming progress in their attempts to remove them from Macedonian territory.
Some civilians have been evacuated from the region, but the Albanian media have reported wide ranging figures for injured and killed civilians. They are not included here, as they are unverified and rely heavily on the eyewitness accounts of other civilians. Security forces report the capture of large quantities of munitions and hardware in 'reclaimed' villages of the region.
New outbreak in Tetovo
On the afternoon of 22 May, seven police officers were injured when their patrol was attacked near the Popova Šapka ski resort behind Tetovo. Media report a weekend resort to have been hit and the long distance Tetovo-Popova Šapka power line to have been damaged. The police officers were transferred to the Tetovo hospital and are reported to be in a stable condition.
A weapons cache was reported seized in the village of Poroj, which borders Tetovo. Three people were arrested and charged with illegal possession of firearms.
Demobilisation of UÇPMB
Concern has been voiced this week that the demobilisation of the UÇPMB—a move not welcomed or accepted by all members of said group, will spark further unrest in Macedonia. The firmly held belief that substantial numbers of the NLA present on Macedonian territory originated in Kosovo or Preševo (either as residents of these regions, or attendees at training facilities there) has resulted in fears that, following the disbandment of PMB, fighters could drift over the border and reinforce units in Macedonia, or form new ones and enter Macedonia. There have been no reports yet of this happening, but it is causing grave concern.
OSCE Ambassador leaves Macedonia
After a month of negotiations, OSCE Special Balkans Envoy Robert Frowick left Macedonia this week under something of a cloud, his mission unclear and his credibility tainted. In angry backlashes to news of the Albanian agreement, a couple of senior government figures issued statements to the effect that he had basically wasted their time.
And in non-war news...
As Macedonia settles into an uneasy cycle of violence and calm, issues which dominated the political and media agenda prior to the emergence of the NLA have started to resurface. One such, is the 'name dispute'—hotly debated prior to the Tetovo incident in the spring, and not mentioned since.
It appears that in a recent visit to Macedonia, the EU Troika may have discussed the resolution of the name issue as a possible means of stabilising the domestic situation. The Greek press claimed this week that the issue had been resolved and the negotiations had settled on 'Upper Macedonia' as an acceptable solution to the dispute.Vecher newspaper related this to the recent discussions between President Trajkovski and President Bush, in which Trajkovski appealed to Bush to set the name issue in motion by recognising Macedonia under its constitutional name. President Bush's reaction to this appeal is not reported.
Eleanor Pritchard, 25 May 2001
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