How many U-turns can be made in a week?
Prime Minsiter Ljubčo Georgievski executed a major U-turn this week, apparently at the behest of the international community, stating that he was prepared to change the constitution to make Albanians a constituent nation of Macedonia and to place the Albanian language on an equal footing with Macedonian. He also stated that he is prepared to abolish the privileged constitutional status accorded to the Macedonian Orthodox Church.
In a second major development. President Boris Trajkovski announced that he is prepared to introduce an amnesty for UÇK fighters, who would also be allowed to exit safely to Kosovo with the exception of organisers of the insurgency or to individuals who had killed Macedonian soldiers or police. It has been noted that this statement echoes the Preševo strategy, which successfully saw the disbandment of the UPMB recently.
MASA proposes territorial exchange
The Macedonian Academy of Arts and Sciences (MASA) sent shock waves through political, media and social circles this week by proposing a territorial exchange to resolve the current strife. The proposal suggests exchanging the north western cities of Tetovo, Debar and Gostivar for the Albanian city of Pogradec situated on Lake Ohrid at Macedonia's southern border.
The proposal was rejected out of hand by most major players, including Javier Solana, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, who expressed concern about the suggestion of a possible territorial solution via partition and population exchanges. All international organisations have this week reaffirmed their commitment to and support of the territorial integrity of Macedonia.
Human rights abuses by Macedonian security forces
Following weeks of human rights abuses being reported by civilians either fleeing or caught in villages which the NLA had passed through or left, this week the first major international complaints about the behaviour of the state security forces were registered by Human Rights Watch. Two separate press releases in one week cite different incidents of unacceptable behaviour by the security forces; the first deals with the separation of ethnic Albanian men fleeing the conflict zone, their detention in Kumanovo police station and their treatment there. For the full report click here.
The second details an investigation into an operation in Runica village (near Kumanovo) in which many people were publicly beaten, one man so badly that he died of his injuries four days later. The full report can be read here.
Government spokesman Georgi Tredafilov categorically rejected the reports' claims stating that civilians were merely evacuated from the areas in question.
The Prizren Document, which prompted the departure of OSCE Envoy Robert Frowick last week has been declared irrelevant by EU and NATO Foreign Ministers at a meeting in Budapest this week and consigned to the scrap heap.
The document, which represented a platform unifying the legitimate Albanian parties and the NLA, was heavily criticised by the international community and greeted with hysteria by the Macedonian media, who saw it as the Albanian parties offering some legitimisation to the armed extremists, still described as "terrorists" within Macedonia.
Solana returns to Macedonia
Javier Solana returned to Macedonia on Tuesday to continue his diplomatic efforts to resolve the situation. The main reason for this visit was to lobby Arben Xhaferi and Imer Imeri to renounce their signatures on the Prizren document. Solana himself remains adamant that there is no way the NLA can be included in negotiations. Faith in Solana, who was seen as the saviour of Macedonia at the beginning of the crisis, may be waning, as his trips seem to increase in frequency, while decreasing in effectiveness.
On 29 May, Solana announced he had brokered a deal between the ethnic Macedonian and Albanian partners in the grand coalition, paralysed since the Prizen document revelation, to resume political dialogue. This appears to be the result of foreign pressure on both sides.
Refugee figures from the fighting
Despite well-articulated fears about the treatment they would receive from the state security forces (which appear to be born out by the reports published by HRW mentioned above), civilians continue to flee the conflict zone behind Kumanovo.
The latest figures from the UNHCR suggest that there are now around 11,000 Internally Displaced Persons, over 20,000 more have entered Kosovo and several hundred have crossed into south Serbia. The total figure may be considerably higher than this, as many people are known to be staying with relatives, and, therefore, are not necessarily registered with either the UNHCR or the Macedonian Red Cross.
NLA sustains losses
Macedonian security forces press releases announced the killing of a man they believe to be a key figure in the still shadowy NLA. According to the release, Fadil Limani, alias "Tiger," (believed to be the commander of terrorists in the Kumanovo region) was killed, and his deputy Naim was seriously wounded last weekend. This unconfirmed report came amidst intensified fighting in the villages of Matejce and Opaje behind Kumanovo.
Continuing trade union problems
In country-wide protests, some 15,000 demonstrators blocked roads through Macedonia on 29 May to protest the lack of communication between the government and trade unions. They threatened further protests if the situation is not rectified, which would add large-scale social unrest to the government's already extensive list of headaches.
Eleanor Pritchard, 1 June 2001
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