Kosovo-Macedonia crisis worries world leaders
On Monday, fighting involving insurgents and Macedonian troops sent hundreds of residents from the border village Tanuševci fleeing into Kosovo and raised concerns of a new flashpoint in the region.
It was not immediately clear what has triggered increased tension on the Kosovo-Macedonian border. But Macedonian officials said fighting had broken out between security forces and armed ethnic Albanians after a joint army and police patrol came under fire from inside Kosovo near the village north of Skopje.
Macedonia's Prime Minister Ljubčo Georgievski was quoted by the MIA news agency as saying last week's signing of a border demarcation agreement between Macedonia and Yugoslavia was "the main irritator for these terrorist groups."
Georgievski warned that his government was prepared to take "radical measures" against the insurgents.
A new group of ethnic Albanian guerrillas, calling themselves a "National Liberation Army", with the same initials as the Kosovo Liberation Army—UÇK—has been operating in the village. The group, which has the same command structure as the former KLA, emerged only six weeks ago, with Tanuševci as its apparent headquarters.
While fighting between Serbian police and ethnic Albanian guerrillas continues in the Preševo valley on the north-east border of Kosovo, the new conflict is threatening to destabilise neighbouring Macedonia on the south-east border. It has already claimed one life.
Adding to NATO's troubles
The rising tension on the three-way border of the Preševo Valley in south Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia also featured at the first NATO foreign ministers' meeting with the new US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
KFOR Commander Lt Gen Carlo Cabigiosu stated that: "KFOR has increased ground and air patrolling along the FYROM—Kosovo border. We have seen absolutely no evidence of ethnic Albanian armed groups crossing from Kosovo to FYROM."
A NATO delegation held crisis talks with Macedonian officials on Wednesday to help them deal with the border flare-up.
UNHCR Spokeswoman, Astrid van Genderen Stort said about 500 people had fled from FYROM to Kosovo, from the village of Malina Mala. More were arriving from the area of Tanuševci as the result of the recent fighting.
Sporadic shooting continued during the week. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was "gravely concerned" by the flare-up. He urged "all the parties to exercise restraint and remains convinced that the situation must be resolved by political means," spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York.
Blow to international administration
The OSCE Spillover Monitor Mission to Skopje enhanced its monitoring activity along the border between Macedonia and Kosovo. The Spillover Mission was established back in 1992 to help prevent the spillover of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia by monitoring the border between Serbia and FYR Macedonia.
Representatives of major international donors financing post-war reconstruction in Kosovo warned on Monday that aid could dry up if deadly ethnic violence does not stop soon. "The donors are concerned about the violence here in Kosovo. It is a recurrent theme time and time again, and quite rightly so," said Andy Bearpark, a deputy to the UN Kosovo administrator Hans Haekkerup.
Albanians in southern Serbia present plan
The Albanian Political Council of Preševo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, the group representing Albanians in the disputed border zone between Kosovo and southern Serbia, handed their political platform for the solution of the crisis in the Preševo Valley to the Serbian side and to international representatives.
Albanians want the direct involvement of the international community in any solution of the crisis. They add that, during a temporary period when the status is still to be defined, Albanians should enjoy a special status, monitored by the world, but be able to govern themselves.
Talks should be held in a neutral place, say the Albanians. Their political status should be linked with further developments in the region. Finally they look for political autonomy for the territory. There is some scope for negotiations, at least. Serbian and Albanian representatives negotiated separately on Thursday in Bujanovac with a NATO delegation, which then held talks with representatives of the rebel UÇPMB (Liberation Army of Preševo, Medveđe and Bujanovac) fighters as well.
The European Union said Monday it was dispatching more observers to south Serbia, amid concern that violence between ethnic Albanian guerrillas and Serbian police could worsen. The monitors—now numbering nine plus a staff of 14—will be increased to 15, said a spokeswoman for the EU's high representative for security and foreign policy, Javier Solana.
UNMIK Welcomes FRY amnesty, asks for more
The United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) welcomed the Amnesty Law approved by the Yugoslav Parliament that paved the way for the release of more than 100 Kosovo Albanians detained in Serbian prisons. However, SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) Hans Haekkerup demanded and insisted that all Kosovo Albanians currently held in Serbian prisons be returned immediately for judicial review in Kosovo.
Albanians welcomed reports made to Parliament by Yugoslav Justice Minister Momčilo Grubać. He gave an indication that the 143 Djakovica residents held on terrorism charges could be released soon.
And in other news...
- UNMIK head Hans Haekkerup met with FRY President Vojislav Koštunica and FRY Foreign Minister Goran Svilanović in Skopje, on the margins of the Balkans summit. The SRSG passed on messages from Kosovo Albanian IAC members, which stressed the importance of releasing Kosovo Albanian detainees, resolving the division of Mitrovica and encouraging Kosovo Serb cooperation with UNMIK.
- Macedonia's government recognized identity documents issued by UNMIK for the Kosovo population.
- The ceremonial opening of a new border crossing and customs post between Kosovo and Serbia, in Merdar, eight km from Podujeva, took place on Monday. "Opening of this border crossing is a big step forward for Kosovo," said Paul Acda, UNMIK's head of the Kosovo Custom Service. "All kind of goods entering from Serbia to Kosovo will be controlled, there will also be tariffs on imported goods, and that will enrich the Consolidated Kosovo Budget," said Ylber Rraci, director of Kosovo Custom Service.
Llazar Semini, 1 March 2001
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