The fourth summit of the Collaboration Process in South Eastern Europe (SCPSEE), which ended in Skopje on Friday 23 February, focused on the violence that continues to smoulder in the region. Leaders from Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Romania, Yugoslavia and Bosnia-Hercegovina unilaterally condemned violence and extremism, requesting urgent action to be taken by the international community to resolve the problem swiftly.
The declaration adopted at the Summit reaffirms the support for UN Security Council Resolution 1244, the Kumanovo agreement between NATO and Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav proposal for the resolution of conflict in the south Serbia crisis and the endeavors of the Special Envoy of the EU Secretary General during the preparations for elections in Kosovo. An Action plan was also adopted for economic cooperation and development, which envisages the coordination of several key activities and identifies several joint projects, stressing the importance of mutual electric power connection and oil and gas pipelines.
News has been dominated this week by events around the border village of Tanushevci. After last week's reported movement of armed men in camouflage uniforms on the Kosovo side of the border, the response of the Macedonian authorities has been nervous but decisive.
Actual events this week have been limited: shooting from early evening into the night on Monday 26 February started from the Kosovo side of the border directed at Macedonian border guards, but is reported to have continued from houses in the village.
The border behind Tanushevci is closed and the security forces on the Macedonian side of the border are fully engaged, including some 600 members of MVR (Ministry of the Interior) special units. In light of these upgraded defense arrangements and the concern they have provoked, the apparent absence of KFOR on the Kosovo side of the border is rousing a great deal of comment and hostility.
On Wednesday, the government announced that it was ready to launch a military operation against the rebels, but a specially commissioned NATO team (deployed by Secretary General George Robertson in response to appeals for assistance) urged the government to remain calm and pursue a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
Some population movement has been reported; approximately 200 to 300 villagers from Tanushevci have left Macedonia for Kosovo to flee the fighting, leaving only a handful of inhabitants in the beleaguered village.
There was a further outbreak of fighting on Thursday, the most significant event of which was the firing of a "Zolja" rocket, which narrowly missed a Macedonian watchtower. Tentative speculation of police casualties has been firmly denied by political, military and medical authorities.
The current situation appears to be that there are around 50 armed rebels inside the village, which is contained by a police cordon some 15 km wide. Obviously, this only secures the Macedonian side of the village and does not restrict movement entirely. Movements of the rebels between Tanushevci and the Kosovan village of Debalde can apparently be observed in the surrounding forest.
It is difficult to obtain a clear picture of events in and around the village because of its location. Situated in a mountainous region on top of the border, the police cordon has severely limited media access to the scene. More importantly, from the limited reports it is almost impossible to ascertain the location of the snipers and other assailants. Clearly, some are actually situated in Tanushevci, but how much of the fire comes from across the Kosovo border (and is therefore the responsibility of KFOR rather than the Macedonian security forces to quell) is utterly unclear.
Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski issued a public statement this week saying that the border incidents have been prompted by the demarcation agreement concluded with FRY this week.
And in other news...
- The Agreement on the Delineation of the Macedonia-Yugoslavia border was ratified on March 1 by the Macedonian Assembly with 89 votes in favor and just nine against. The agreement, which ends a ten-year border dispute, has been presented as an example of the regional accord and cooperation that now exists in the Balkans at state level.
- Leader of the opposition Branko Crvenkovski this week officially recognized Boris Trajkovski as legitimate president of Macedonia, ending a dispute that has run since Trajkovski's election to the post in Autumn 1999.
- A police officer was shot and seriously wounded in the Bit Pazar (old town) of Skopje this week. Reports said he confronted two men carrying a black hold-all and asked to see their Identity Cards, upon which one drew a gun and shot him several times.
- A report published this week said that there were no cases of Mad Cow Disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, BSE) in Macedonia, and that the country's livestock was not at risk from Slovenia or Kosovo.
Eleanor Pritchard, 2 March 2001
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