Sporadic violence punctures cease-fire
The shaky cease-fire extended for a further 12 days last Friday (15 June) has been punctured by sporadic outbursts over the past week.
The latest incident was an attack on the National Liberation Army's (NLA) positions in Araçinovo on Friday 22 June. Starting at dawn, government security forces used helicopter gun ships, tanks and mortars in an operation designed to "remove the terrorists" from the village, just outside Skopje. The senior NLA member in the village, Commandant Hoxha, reported three civilians killed in the attack and 18 injured. A government spokesman rejected this figure saying that all civilians had fled the area.
Commandant Hoxha reiterated his earlier threat to shell Skopje if the attacks on Araçinovo did not stop. Military experts are unsure whether he has hardware capable of carrying this out.
Despite massive international pressure, the inter-party negotiations aiming to bring an end to violence in Macedonia restarted on Monday, but remain deadlocked at the end of this week. The West has demanded concessions to the Albanians in terms of status and recognition.
Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, however, issued a statement midweek accusing the Albanian parties (PDSh and PPD) of raising the stakes unrealistically by demanding the creation of a new post of "vice-president," with a right to veto, to be held by an Albanian. This idea was met with incredulity by international observers and members of the diplomatic corps in the country, which saw it as a sideways attempt to federalise the state by creating a bicameral assembly.
SDSM leader Branko Crvenkovski's assertion is that the demands of PDSh and PPD are unacceptable, as they are "incompatible with the civil society concept." PPD leader Imer Imeri has rejected this saying that the "ideas of PDSh and PPD are not expansionist, as the Albanian block does not ask for federalisation of Macedonia. The outcome of negotiations will depend on the way the Macedonian State is defined in the Preamble."
Interior Minister Ljube Boškovski quit the all-party security body on 20 June, charging that his colleagues are "too ready" to accept Albanian demands. However, rumours abound that he has, in fact, resigned, because his position has become untenable following his recent abortive attempt to arm "police reservists" among Skopje's ethnic Macedonians (Reuters).
At the EU summit in Gothenburg this week, EU leaders praised President Trajkovski's efforts at mediation and promised more aid to Macedonia on the successful resolution of the current crisis. Brussels has given Macedonia until the 25 June to reach a resolution.
On Wednesday 20 June, President Trajkovski appealed for NATO assistance in disarming the NLA. After several days of rumour and counter-rumour, the outline emerging is that NATO is prepared to commit a further 3000 troops to the country.
NATO has repeatedly stated that this would not be a peacekeeping force, but a force deployed for a short and finite period (of perhaps a month) purely to oversee disarmament. It seems likely that Great Britain would lead such a force, supported by six other NATO members: France, Spain, Greece, The Netherlands, Norway and the Czech Republic.
The Unites States is not expected to send men but to provide logistical and technical backup; something that has attracted criticism from many quarters, who have all highlighted the importance of US troops on the ground to solving Balkan conflicts. No NATO deployment is expected to enter the country until negotiations have been concluded and a cease-fire proven to hold.
Counting the cost
Many disputes in Macedonia come down to numbers, in several aspects. For the number-crunchers, here are some latest figures.
- On 19 June, a spokesperson in Priština of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that 27,000 people had arrived in Kosovo in less than ten days, adding that the total number of Macedonians displaced since 3 May was close to 39,000.
- UNHCR in southern Serbia said that over 700 Macedonians of different ethnic background entered at the end of last week, bringing the total number of arrivals from the FYR of Macedonia to over 3500.
- KFOR reported 19 suspected members of the NLA near the border with Macedonia between 17 and 20 June.
- The US currently has approximately 700 people in Macedonia and some 5400 US troops in Kosovo. They are reticent to put extra troops on the ground, reflecting the Bush administration policy of decreasing US responsibilities in Europe.
- Macedonian police arrested 30 men in Skopje near the Kale fort on 20 June. Police officials said that the men came from Albania driving stolen cars, and are suspected of links to the NLA.
Taipei traded for Beijing
Relations between Macedonia and Taiwan were severed on 18 June, in light of the communiqué signed by Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva and the Chinese Foreign Minister. Taipei presented this as a predictable outcome to a relationship that had proved disappointing and expensive to the tiny Asian island.
The Taipei opposition levelled criticism at the government for seeking to increase its number of allies (standing at 28 after the loss of Macedonia) at the expense of its shrinking economy. At present, half of Taiwan's USD 400 million budget is spent on assisting its allies. Macedonia received money from Taiwan as aid, and there have been inquiries within Taiwan as to whether this money can be reclaimed—something Macedonia could scarcely afford, especially at present.
To recap the important dates in this two-year relationship:
Taiwan and Macedonia established diplomatic ties without notifying ex-president Kiro Gligorov.
Gligorov refused to accept credentials from Peter Cheng; Taiwan's ambassador to Skopje & China broke off relations with Macedonia.
Macedonia grand coalition government was formed; including the SDSM, which was severely against ties with Taipei.
June 17, 2001
Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva (SDSM) departed for Beijing for a two-day visit to "normalise relations."
June 18, 2001
Taiwan severed ties with Macedonia. China and Macedonia signed a joint communiqué in Beijing to normalise relations between the two countries.
Any future agreements between the two countries have been ruled out by a clause in the Beijing Communiqué, which acknowledges Taiwan to be an inalienable part of China and vows never to establish official ties with Taiwan.
And in other news...
- On 17 June, Albanian President Rexhep Meidani called on the NLA to withdraw "to allow political dialogue to continue."
- Macedonia and Belarus signed an agreement this week for economic and trade co-operation. The bilateral agreement was signed in response to the decrease in trade between the two countries.
- The current security situation threatens several summer festivals in Macedonia; the Skopje Summer (scheduled to start next week) has had to re-site many performances from outdoors to indoor venues. MIA reports that many people scheduled to attend the 40th anniversary of the Struga Poetry Evenings are asking for their safety to be guaranteed. This year's winner of the highest accolade, the "Golden Wreath" (Irish poet Seamus Heaney), has not cancelled his arrival in Struga.
Eleanor Pritchard, 22 June 2001
- Archive of news reviews for Macedonia
- Browse through the CER eBookstore for electronic books
- Buy English-language books on Central Europe through CER
- Return to CER front page
Macedonian Information Agency