With the breakup of the former Yugoslav Federation which started in Slovenia in 1991, it was commonly thought that the conflict eventually would involve Macedonia. Although Macedonia had broken free from the shackles of the old Federation without bloodshed, it was commonly thought that the ethnic composition of Albanian and Slavic Macedonians especially in the northwest of the country would eventually lead to conflict.
Macedonia has not had an easy trip along the path to democracy. Greek opposition to the use of the name "Macedonia", a blockade of the border with Greece and Serbia isolated the country except through Bulgaria. It was only when Macedonia accepted the use of the acronym "FYROM" - Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, did the Greeks reopen their border with Macedonia allowing once again Macedonian access to the Aegean seaports including Thessaloniki, which were historically their main trading routes.
The conflict in Tetovo, Macedonia's third largest city after Skopje and Bitola, between Kosovo-backed Albanian rebels and the Macedonian army and police is sporadic and is certainly not outright warfare. There is nearly a unanimous condemnation by the Western powers of the use of force by the ethnic Albanian minority. The Russian President, Vladomir Putin in Stockholm is quoted as saying "these are not rebels, but terrorists".
The major powers believe that they can control the situation by closing the border between Macedonia and Kosovo. This will prevent the flow of arms from Kosovo into Macedonia, and cut of the retreat of Albanian rebels who might seek sanctuary in Kosovo. Furthermore, NATO will provide intelligence, training and other unspecified support to the Macedonian armed forces.
Closing the border between Macedonia and Kosovo by NATO will be no easy task. The mountainous and forested areas of the border are ideal for rebel activity and the Kosovar networks put in place by the KLA can again be used by the rebels in this conflict.
What are the conditions like in Tetovo for the Albanian (and Muslim) population who number 80% of the total population of Tetovo? It is true that there has been (and still is) resistance by the Macedonian government to offer true equality to the ethnic Albanian inhabitants of Tetovo, most of whom are Macedonian by birth, but it also true to say that the conditions and discrimination endured by the ethnic Albanians is nothing like the Kosovar Albanians had to endure as a result of the policies of Slobodan Milosevic and the former Socialist Serb government. The EU has been mostly supportive of the stance taken by the Macedonian Government, but has urged them to speed up action on long-standing demands of ethnic Albanians for better economic, political and social standing in Macedonian society. 23% of the Macedonian population are of Albanian descent and the majority of them live in the northwest of the country around Tetovo and the border with Albania.
SKOPJE: MEETING OF THE MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT
The Macedonian Parliament on the session held on 16th and 17th March, 2001, discussing under the Information of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia on the current safety situation in the Republic of Macedonia, brought the following:
SKOPJE: The Macedonian Parliament has called for the introduction of measures to preserve peace, as its forces step-up action against Albanian rebels and renewing fears of a new war in the Balkans.
The government which commenced meetings on the 19 March 2001, said the move was supported by all it's Albanian MP's, the government and the opposition. Parliament met to examine the position in Tetovo, were civil unrest by armed rebels has been continuing since Wednesday (17 March 2001) between the Macedonian armed forces and Albanian extremists. UN envoy Jiri Dienstbier warned that 'greater Albanian' nationalism potentiated the return of war in the Balkans.
19 March 2001
HEAVY FIGHTING AROUND TETOVO
TETOVO: Police armed with mortars began an advance on about 200 gunmen after 4 days of heavy fighting which has left 1 person dead and more 25 injured.
Stevo Pendarovki, a spokesman from the Interior Ministry stated that police had regained a strategic hilltop overlooking Tetovo, and captured an unspecified number of rebels. More than 2,000 civilians have fled Tetovo, many seeking shelter abroad in countries including Bulgaria and Turkey.
"Security has gone downhill due to the activities of the extremists who question the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Macedonia" a press release from Parliament stated today. Furthermore, Parliament sought international support for it's position on Macedonia's integrity and sovereignty along with necessary aid. It requested that KFOR, the multinational force in Kosovo, give 'a greater presence and commitment along the border' between Macedonia and Kosovo. The Serbian province of Kosovo with a majority population of ethnic Albanians has been ruled by the UN since 1999.
20 March 2001
SKOPJE: Thousands of residents from Tetovo demonstrated outside the Macedonian Parliament building, demanding an end to the violence in their town.
The President, Boris Trajkovski addressed the protesters and urged them 'not to abandon their homes and give in to disinformation and pressure from armed groups'. He told the protesters: "Show that you can be reasonable. Tetovo is a Macedonian town and it will remain so, you must go back there and live together with the Albanians".
Protesters replied by shouting 'give us weapons' and 'we have had enough'
20 March 2001
GERMAN TROOPS PULL OUT
TETOVO: NATO evacuated 500 German soldiers from a Macedonian barracks, after it came under fire by ethnic Albanian rebels. The German Army sent tanks and other amoured vehicles from Kosovo to assist with the evacuation. The rebels state they are fighting to end Skopje's discrimination of the large ethnic Albanian minority. The Macedonian Government stated that the rebels were mostly Kosovo Albanians seeking to extend the Kosovar provincial borders.
20 March 2001
DEADLINE GIVEN TO ALBANIAN TERRORISTS
SKOPJE: Ethnic Albanian rebels were given until midnight 21 March 2001, to withdraw, surrender or face a Macedonian Army assault into the hills behind the city of Tetevo
The rebels also faced condemnation of major powers who declared that there would be "zero tolerance" for any more deliberate ethnic violence by the rebels in the Baltic state
A guerilla commander said the fighters would ignore the deadline and take the battle to the streets of the Tetovo if the government failed to negotiate on their demand for equal rights for Macedonia's 600,000 ethnic Albanians.
"Morale is high, ammunition is plentiful and our casualties are light", a commander stated by telephone from the hills
Macedonian Army forces have been shelling a hill overlooking the mainly Albanian city of 70,000 after guerillas fired on police last Wednesday.
NATO peace keeping forces have reinforced their presence in the mountainous border region with Kosovo, a possible line of retreat for the guerillas. The UN in Ankara confirmed that 2,500 ethnic Albanians had crossed into Turkey from Bulgaria after fleeing clashes between guerillas and the Macedonian military.
The Department of the Interior and the Department of Defence stated Macedonian troops would not fire upon ethnic guerillas from midnight Tuesday until midnight Wednesday unless attacked.
"After the deadline, Macedonian forces would use all its means to against positions of the terrorists until they are completely destroyed", a government spokesman said today.
22 March 2001
TETOVO: Two ethnic Albanian terrorists, a father and his son, were killed today in Tetovo by Macedonian police enforcing their "zero tolerance" policy. The terrorists are believed to have produced a hand grenade after their car was stopped by police for a routine roadside search.
The unrest in the mainly Albanian city of Tetovo, escalated today as ethnic Albanian rebels continue to ignore the deadline to surrender, and shots were exchanged between them and the Macedonian Police and Army.
The army continued their barrage of rebel strongholds in the hills behind Tetovo, Macedonia's third largest city. A government spokesman said today that action against the terrorists would continue until peace was restored in the city"
23 March 2001
CURFEW IN TETOVO
TETEVO: The Macedonian has reintroduced a curfew in Tetovo. The Interior Ministry decided starting from tonight at 12.00 PM., the city with Albanian majority in northwestern Macedonia. "The decision was taken to protect the life, security and the property of citizens and to guarantee the law and public order", affirms a communiqué of the Interior Ministry released by MIA. The curfew will last until 05.00 AM.
13 April 2001
NO BALKANS WAR FOR MACEDONIA
SKOPJE: Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski stated that he believed that his multi-ethnic country would not become the battleground for a fifth Balkans war, blaming recent unrest on criminals and extremists from neighboring Kosovo.
"Many people predicted there would be fifth (Balkans) war here, but there are not sufficient grounds for that," Trajkovski told reporters after a meeting with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who pledged across-the-board support for Skopje.
The breakup of the former socialist federation of Yugoslavia had led to four wars, starting in Slovenia and Croatia in 1991, followed by Bosnia from 1992-1995 and ending with the Kosovo conflict, when NATO intervened in a bitter struggle between ethnic Albanian guerrillas and Belgrade.
"There is no support within the political structure of Macedonia for the extremists," he said, calling the ethnic Albanian rebellion that rocked the country last month "an export from Kosovo."
He said the gunmen who fought Macedonian security forces along the northern border with the UN managed Serbian province were "related to some criminal groups which control them. They think they are threatened in their smuggling business."
Macedonia received international backing for its military response to the extremists, whom it succeeded in defeating only after weeks of fighting that at one point threatened war in the major northwestern town of Tetovo.
Trajkovski said Skopje would look to upgrade its military equipment, particularly in communications, "in order to have a more efficient and proactive forces." Washington signed a deal Wednesday to provide Skopje with 3.5 million dollars of military aid, mainly in tactical communications equipment.
At the same time the president said his government would seek to defuse tensions by pushing ahead with talks to address Albanian complaints that they are treated as second-class citizens. But he said any changes must focus on citizens rights rather than the rights of ethnic groups. "We are not ethno-tribes, we have to create a clear civil concept. We want citizens rights not ethnic group's rights," said Trajkovski.
Ethnic Albanian political parties are calling for constitutional change to recognize the large minority as a constituent nation along with the Macedonian Slav majority. Skopje is wary of the idea, seeing it as an attempt to federalize the country, which could lead to extremists attempting to annex Albanian-populated areas to Kosovo, whose 95% Albanian population is seeking independence.
13 April 2001
POWELL VISITS MACEDONIA
SKOPJE: US Secretary of State Colin Powell supported a united Macedonia on Thursday, urging compromise between Slav majority and Albanian ethnic minority.
Western leaders strove to underline they would not tolerate further separatism menacing the fragile peace in the Balkans since 1999. The West fears a fresh outbreak of Balkan war unless Macedonia's majority Slavs grant greater rights to minority Albanians, whose complaints of discrimination contributed to a sudden rebel insurrection last month.
Powell, in his first attempt at Balkan diplomacy, met Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, who told reporters afterwards his government was committed to a serious Macedonian political dialogue with the Albanians.
United States Support for Macedonia's Integrity
Powell said he was pleased that dialogue with the Albanian minority had resumed and he invited Trajkovski to visit Washington in early May. "You can be sure of the American support of your efforts, political support, economic support and military support," Powell told him in a strong endorsement of Macedonian unity.
He arrived in Skopje from Paris, where Western powers and Russia, the six nations which comprise the 'Contact Group' on the former Yugoslavia, agreed on Wednesday to do all they could to prevent another war in Macedonia. A senior State Department official had said en route to Paris that Powell would urge Skopje to use proportionate force against attacks by ethnic Albanians should they resume.
Macedonia's political leaders opened a new round of talks on Tuesday on how to reconcile the two communities, after promising the European Union on Monday to draft reforms by June. Macedonia aspires to join the European Union and is keen not to alienate Western investors and donors needed for economic development. Macedonian Slav and Albanian parties remain far apart on terms for agreement. The main Albanian parties are demanding international mediation and changes to the constitution. The basic law makes Macedonian Slavs the main nationality and Macedonian the only official language. Albanians comprise a large proportion (approximately 22%) of the two million population.
Powell was also due to meet Arben Xhaferi, leader of the ethnic Albanian DPA party that belongs to the fragile ruling coalition, and was likely to encourage him to stay at the talks despite his threats to bolt if progress were not made. The West has rejected comparisons made by ethnic Albanian terrorists between the bloody ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo by Serbian security forces in 1998-99 and discrimination against Albanians in Macedonia.
13 April 2001
SKOPJE: The Macedonian government sent reinforcements to an area near Kosovo on Sunday after eight members of its security forces were killed in the first serious violence since an ethnic Albanian revolt was quelled last month. The government declared Monday a national day of mourning.
30 April 2001
MACEDONIA CONSIDERS WAR
SKOPJE : Macedonia's leaders, facing an insurgence by ethnic Albanian rebels, are to start consultations on whether to declare a state of war, its Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski announced.
Government security troops have been shelling rebel positions in the northeast of the former Yugoslav republic since Thursday after the rebels killed 10 servicemen in a week. But they so far have failed to remove the rebels from positions in several villages despite continued artillery fire and helicopter attacks. The battle has revived fears of widening conflict that major powers hoped had been stifled last month when a government offensive forced back guerrilla forces who had occupied the hills above the western town of Tetovo.
"We have discussed this issue very seriously but first we have to consult other political parties before taking a decision," Georgievski said on Saturday. Georgievski, who is also acting defense minister and leader of the main Slav Macedonian party in the government coalition which also includes an ethnic Albanian party, spoke after a meeting with President Boris Trajkovski and security officials. Asked when such a decision could be taken, the premier said: "There is no deadline, it could be Tuesday or Wednesday."
According to the constitution a state of war, which gives wider rights to the security forces, must be approved by a two-thirds parliamentary majority.
"We are thinking about this not because the army and the police are not able to withstand the rebel attacks, but to give them more room for maneuver,'' he said before the meeting.
Georgievski warned that further rebel action was expected overnight or on Sunday and again said the insurgence was exported from neighboring Albanian-majority Kosovo. "It is obvious that we are facing a well-organized paramilitary terrorist force. All the information we have shows that these terrorist forces are coming from Kosovo, so there is no doubt it is an aggression from there". Georgievski identified the Kosovo Protection Corps, a civilian force which included many former members of the now disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army which had fought Serb forces. The corps, he said, was giving shelter to the fighters and then was sending them to southern Serbia and to Macedonia.
Artillery Action Continues
Army tanks and artillery ringed a cluster of rebel-held villages just west of the main highway, near the border with Yugoslavia, and were ready to resume shelling for a fourth day on Sunday in a bid to dislodge the gunmen. Tanks fired on houses, setting some aflame, in the villages of Vakcince and Slupcane, where the fighting has occurred since Thursday. Guerrillas answered with machine-gun fire. No troops were seen to enter the villages.
"Civilians are the main problem, if there were no civilians, we would have entered the villages long ago", an Interior Ministry source said.
Political Dialogue Resumed
As fighting continued, Macedonia's leaders resumed talks on Saturday on how to increase the rights and the role of the Albanian minority, one third of the population. The talks may be the only alternative to civil war. The dialogue was suspended after the guerrillas killed eight soldiers and policemen in one attack last Saturday and two in a second strike five days later, triggering anti-Albanian riots in several areas. Trajkovski, who receive strong backing from Washington last week, met leaders of all parliamentary political parties and said main points for discussion had been agreed. These included an increased numbers of Albanians at all levels of power, decentralization of local government, increased usage of the Albanian language and possible changes to the constitution which now makes Macedonian Slavs the founder nation.
European Union security affairs chief Javier Solana was due in Macedonia on Sunday for talks with the government and NATO Secretary General George Robertson was expected to join them on Monday. In a withering blast at Western handling of the crisis, the Russian foreign ministry on Friday said such visits served no great purpose and advised Macedonia to take "decisive action,'' for which it could count on Kremlin support.
6 May 2001
FORMATION OF "GRAND COALITION"
SKOPJE: The main political parties in Macedonia have agreed to form a "grand coalition" government of national unity including all main ethnic Albanian and Slav parties, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said today. "The great percentage of the deal is done and I am optimistic that we will form the grand coalition tomorrow. There is a little fine tuning to be done,'' he told local reporters after extended talks which included European Union security affairs chief Javier Solana.
The Prime Minister said that two main opposition parties - the Slav-dominated Socialists and the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity - would join the coalition, which currently comprises three parties, including the main Albanian DPA. Georgievski said the idea of imposing a state of war was off the agenda for now because "Macedonian security forces conducted a successful operation today." The army has been shelling ethnic Albanian rebel strongholds in two villages in the northeast, for the past five days to dislodge terrorist forces, who killed 10 members of the security forces in recent ambush attacks.
8 May 2001
SKOPJE: Macedonian tanks, helicopters and long-range artillery pounded ethnic Albanian terrorists Tuesday while the opposition Albanian party delayed efforts to form a national unity government that would help restore peace in the troubled country. Shells, rockets and machine-gun fire was directed at targets in the village of Vakcince, sending clouds of smoke into the air. The bombardment tailed off in the afternoon after two Soviet-built MI-24 helicopter gunships were used to fire rockets at ground targets. The shelling of Slupcane, another suspected rebel stronghold, was less intense than in previous days.
Army spokesman Blagoja Markovski said about 100 rebels in Vakcince, had fired back. Reporters saw no clear sign of return fire, and there were no correspondents in Vakcince to check independently.
The West has expressed profound concern that Macedonia could be on the brink of war that could destabilize the Balkans less than two years after the end of the Kosovo conflict. Macedonian party leaders, with European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, agreed Monday to form a multi-ethnic government of national unity in a bid to deprive the separatist rebels of fundamental support. Rapid formation of a "grand coalition" is seen as key to countering the rebels, who state that they defend the Albanian minority, thus reducing the risk of civil war.
Agreement Reached By Albanian Party
Announcement of a "grand coalition" had been expected Tuesday after the two main Slav parties, the ruling VMRO-DPMNE and the opposition Socialists, had reached agreement. But the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP), the main ethnic Albanian opposition grouping, declared that it needed more time. "We have not taken a decision yet," said Naser Ziberi, head of the PDP parliamentary group. "The session will continue tomorrow morning because of additional consultations within the party and with the international community,'' Ziberi said. "The priority for us is how to stop the war." The PDP wants a cease-fire before finalising the deal, although it is not clear if this is its only sticking point.
In the early hours, after marathon talks that included Solana, President Boris Trajkovski and leaders of all main parties, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said a coalition government was all but in place and the Socialists and PDP had agreed to join. This would create an administration with a clear two-thirds majority in parliament, giving the coalition unchallenged power to enact new laws and make constitutional changes to deliver the promise of equal rights for ethnic Albanians. "We are back from the brink of war we were on not very many hours ago,'' said an EU diplomat close to the talks.
Solana, upon returning to Brussels, said he was optimistic. "I think that to have now the possibility of a unity government in which the most important parties are engaged ... is very, very important and I hope that they will be able to move the process of internal dialogue with this structure in the government,'' he said.
Refugees Flee Macedonia to Kosovo
In Western opinion, the most promising strategy is to deprive the Albanian rebels of all plausible political support while driving them back into Kosovo, without inflicting major civilian casualties. The rebels have used the same tactics they used in March when, after heavy fighting in the northwesterly Tetovo area, they retreated, only to strike in the northeast five weeks later. Macedonia was "on the brink of an abyss" and denounced the guerrillas as "murderous thugs" and "criminals" who had no mandate but were intent on destroying the Macedonian state, using civilians as human shields. The main conflict is centred in an area 30 km northeast of the capital Skopje. The latest fighting has forced many ethnic Albanians to leave, either to escape fighting or fearing it would come to their areas. Most refugees are fleeing to Kosovo not Macedonia, a Yugoslav province dominated by their ethnic kin. A total of 17,000 refugees have fled to Kosovo since March.
9 May 2001
GRAND COALITION MAY HAVE LITTLE EFFECT ON PEACE
The formation of a Macedonian government may have little or no effect of securing a peace in the troubled area of Tetovo. Kosovo backed rebels move across the border into Macedonia to engage the Macedonian army and police and then move back into Kosovo. These rebels may have more interest in creating Albanian enclave in Macedonia than simply achieving greater equality for Albanian-Macedonians through coalitions of government.
10 May 2001
MACEDONIA SEEKS TO FORM ALBANIAN COALITION, THE REBEL DISMISS IT
SKOPJE: Macedonia is to form a coalition government on Friday in an attempt to isolate ethnic Albanian rebels, but the rebels say a deal will not end their insurgency, regardless of which political or ethnic parties sign up.
The army has reduced the shelling of rebel-held mountain villages as the West increases the pressure on Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity (PDP) to join an all-party coalition designed to stop a fragile ethnic mix in Macedonia fragmenting in civil war.
Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski has given the PDP one last chance to back the plan when he meets party leaders, but rejected its call for a lasting cease-fire before it joins.
The West has appealed to the PDP to stop fighting over terms and make the national unity government a reality first. NATO chief George Robertson said in Madrid, "When the nation's very survival is at stake, there is no room for playing politics.''
The guerrillas however, who say they still hold the same positions despite a week of shelling, dismissed talks that exclude them and demanded an internationally brokered agreement to address the grievances of Macedonia's Albanian minority.
"The creation of the coalition government does not help solve the situation," the NLA (National Liberation Army) political leader Ali Ahmeti said today.
The PDP, which has shared power with socialists since Macedonia broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991, wants the NLA to be included in talks, but the British and US are opposed to this demand.
"They have been offered tantalizing positions, meaning ministries, in the government,'' a spokesman said today.
An Uncertain Future
The PDP Deputy Chairman Abdylhadi Veseli said he hoped to resolve the crisis which first reared its head in March when rebels commenced their insurgency in the mountainous Kosovo border. "We want to rule responsibly with the coalition," he said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, who went to Skopje late on Thursday, said Turkey backed the Macedonian government and appealed to the PDP to become its partner.
Hashim Thaci, a former guerrilla leader turned politician in the main ethnic Albanian party in the UN-run Yugoslav province, joined those urging the PDP to do just that. "We all understand that the (PDP's) boycott of this process does not help in solving the problems," Thaci said.
Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said a new government would be formed on Saturday regardless of who signs up. "The PDP will be asked for the last time: 'Are they ready?'"
NLA rebels said they are fighting for the end to discrimination against Albanians in jobs, education and language rights and other social issues that politicians want addressed. They also deny the use of mostly ethnic Albanian populations of nearby villages as "human shields'' against military attacks, stating that the civilians have chosen to stay rather than heed government invitations to leave during daily morning breaks in bombardment. Even so, more than 17,000 ethnic Albanians has crossed the border into Kosovo to flee the unrest around Tetovo and surrounding villages.
NLA Commander Sokoli said the PDP's actions would not end the civil unrest that the shelling has sought to quell. "All they're interested in is being forced into the political process to try and feather their nests," he said.
11 May 2001
SAME PROBLEM - DIFFERENT PLACE
Talks in Macedonia, which aim to workout a political solution to the tensions between majority Slavs and minority Albanians, have so far failed to deliver results. There is strong international pressure to broker an agreement, which would serve to remove support for the Albanian rebels. Other countries in Central and Eastern Europe have already had to deal with a similar problem. Outside former Yugoslavia, none of the ex-Communist countries have conceded the principle of territorial autonomy for minority communities. Macedonia describes itself as "the state of the Macedonian nation".
2 The Slovak Constitution contains a similar formulation. In each case, the main minority groups - Albanians and Hungarians - would like to change "nation" to "citizens", but so far without success. Both countries remain, explicitly, "national" states.
Denying Ethnic Minority
Poland provides an interesting illustration of how thinking about minority issues has evolved. Under the former Communist regime, the existence of national minorities was effectively denied, all citizens were said to be Poles. Today, several minority nationalities are acknowledged: Germans, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Lithuanians - together accounting for some 3% of the population. They have their own churches, schools and state-subsidised cultural organisations and the Germans have two MPs. No autonomy. There is no question of allowing regional autonomy of the kind granted, for instance, by Italy, to German-speaking Southern Tyrol.
Slovakia's 1999 minority language law allows for Hungarian to be used in official contacts in areas where Hungarians comprise at least 20% of the local population. But discussions on regional government reform have made little headway, with Hungarians complaining that proposals presented so far would divide up the Hungarian-speaking areas, combining them with larger, Slovak-speaking territory. However, since 1998, Hungarians have formed part of Slovakia's governing coalition and much of the tension has subsided.
In Romania, which also has a large Hungarian minority, relations have improved in the past few years. Nevertheless, any attempt to bring together the main Hungarian-speaking areas into one larger administrative unit have been rejected - as have demands for the restoration of the historic Hungarian university in the ethnically mixed city of Cluj.
Hungary itself officially recognises 13 minority ethnic groups, which are empowered to set up local "minority self-governments". However, the powers of these bodies are very vaguely defined and communities have to be resident in Hungary for at least 100 years in order to be eligible.
Genocide and Expulsion
The ethnic make-up of much of Central and Eastern Europe can be traced back to the massive "ethnic cleansing" which occurred as a result of the Second World War. The majority of the large Jewish population perished in the Holocaust, several million Poles were expelled from what are now parts of Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. Throughout the region - in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia - Gypsies, or Roma, remain at the very bottom of the social heap: poor, despised and subject to daily harassment and racial abuse. Several million strong, they are traditionally Europe's largest nomadic people. They make no territorial claims, but their high birth rate and continuing social alienation are seen by some pessimists as another potential ethnic time-bomb.
12 May 2001
Source: www.bbc.co.uk ; Edited by: George Brown
MACEDONIAN ETHNIC DIVISIONS
Since Macedonians voted for independence in 1991, their new state's external stability has been gradually strengthened as Skopje has overcome the hostility and suspicions of its neighbours.
But internal security remains at times precarious in the face of what are often tense inter-ethnic relations between the Macedonian Slav majority and the ethnic Albanian minority.
Macedonia's Albanian community accounts - according to official figures - for 23% of the two-million-strong population, but ethnic Albanians say the real figure is more like one-third.
There's no way of verifying these claims - as both side try to inflate the size of its own ethnic community.
Disagreements also surface when it comes to assessing the conditions of Macedonia's Albanian minority. Macedonian Slavs say that Albanians are treated as equals, and they point to the fact that ethnic Albanian representatives have some of the top jobs in government.
In fact, conditions for the ethnic Albanians have considerably improved since the once strongly nationalist Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski formed government in 1998 and invited the previously radical Democratic Party of Albanians to join his coalition.
Macedonia came through the Kosovo crisis better than expected, accommodating hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees without upsetting the delicate ethnic balance in the country. The most recent positive achievement was the laying of the foundation stone earlier this month for an Albanian-language university in Tetovo in the northwest - a long-held wish of ethnic Albanians who have been running their own unrecognised university in that town since 1994.
Radical ethnic Albanians still argue that having six ministers in the government is little more than window-dressing. They claim that their community is continuing to suffer discrimination in a whole range of areas - from access to public service jobs to education in their own language. Resentment of what they see as their second-class status has pushed some ethnic Albanians towards greater militancy.
Mass unemployment and poverty have also provided a breeding-ground for those favouring the use of violence. There have been isolated incidents - attacks on police stations and shoot-outs with security forces - many of which have been linked to ethnic Albanian involvement in organised crime involving cross-border smuggling.
Large-scale movement across the Kosovo-Macedonia border has also included armed ethnic Albanian militants who've been known to be operating, particularly in the inaccessible Sar mountains in the northwest. Some of these fighters are former guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army; others have received their weapons from that now disbanded force.
Whether they are from Macedonia, Kosovo or from the Presevo valley in southern Serbia along the boundary with Kosovo, many of these militants share the objective of wanting to unite these Albanian-inhabited regions of the former Yugoslavia. And that might be the first step towards creating a greater Albania. It's not clear what support the radical fighters enjoy among Macedonia's ethnic Albanian community.
The Role of NATO
The more the ethnic Albanians become integrated into Macedonian society, the less likely they are to be attracted by the dream of a greater Albania. But armed incidents - though so far these have been isolated - can create greater tension, and a tough response from the Macedonian security forces could lead to a cycle of retaliation. That's one reason why Macedonian leaders are hoping that the NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo will do more to stop the infiltration of armed ethnic Albanians across the border.
NATO has freed Kosovo's Albanians of repression at the hands of Serbia, but as part of the same process it may have contributed to exacerbating the problem of ethnic Albanian militancy in the regions that border on Kosovo.
13 May 2001
Source: Gabriel Partos; www.bbc.co.uk
TERRORISTS MISUSE THE CEASE-FIRE
SKOPJE: A government spokesman, Mr. Antonio Milososki stated, at a press conference, that the new Government would have a an increasingly difficult task of supressing the current security crisis in Macedonia and proceeding with the political dialogue, under the supervision of President Boris Trajkovski.
According to Milososki, the outcome of the crisis was known at its very beginning, and added that regardless how long it took, the democracy would defeat the terrorism. He stressed that the Government believes that the Republic of Macedonia is the strongest democracy in the region in which all citizens regardless their nationality, enjoy all international and European rights.
Spokesman of the Ministry of Defense, Georgi Trendafilov reported that the Macedonian security forces yesterday ceased their actions against the Albanian terrorists in order to enable the Red Cross Committee representatives to assess the situation with civilians in the villages of Vaksince, Slupcane, Orizare, Lojane and Lipkovo. He added that the Macedonian Army would not allow the Albanian terrorists to move freely and to regroup in the Kumanovo region.
According to Trendafilov, near the locality Strma, in the region of the village of Otlja that has not been included in the activities of the International Red Cross representatives, the Albanian terrorists in an attempt to occupy new combat positions and opened fire against the positions of the Macedonian Army. The Macedonian security forces dispersed this group quickly and efficiently.
Spokesman Trendafilov was informed that in the region of the mountain Sar Planina, the Macedonian Army registered a movement of a group of Albanian terrorists in the region of Vejska River, which was destroyed with an artillery fire.
Spokesman of the General Staff of the Macedonian Army, Colonel Blagoja Markovski reported that the Kumanovo region was calm until 19:30, while the Macedonian security forces refrained from activities against Albanian terrorists' positions, respecting the appeal of the International Red Cross Committee for a cease-fire so that they could deliver help for the local population.
He stated that the terrorists used the cease-fire to regroup and take new positions, and opened mortar and anti aircraft machine-gun fire from the new positions in the pinewoods to the northwest of Slupcane. The Macedonian security forces fired back destroying two mortar nests and one anti aircraft machine-gun nest above the village of Orizare.
Markovski was informed that the representatives of the International Red Cross managed to contact the captured soldier of the Macedonian Army, Goran Mitrevski, delivering him personal messages from the his family and a humanitarian aid package.
15 May 2001
MACEDONIAN SECURITY FORCES OPERATION NEAR VAKSINCE AND SLUPCANE
KUMANOVO: Macedonian security forces carried an action for destroying two specifically selected legitimate targets to the north of Vaksince and to the northwest of Slupcane" Col. Blagoja Markovski, spokesperson of the Macedonian Army General Staff said today.
According to Markovski, Albanian terrorists installed new strongholds and command posts in the locality Borova Suma and to the north of Vaksince. They opened fire at the first lines of the Macedonian security forces out of these positions. "Macedonian security forces responded to these provocations. The whole operation lasted for fifteen minutes, and after it the situation is relatively calm" Col. Markovski said.
18 May 2001
EXODUS OF REFUGEES BUT CEASEFIRE HOLDING
Refugees have been leaving rebel-held villages in northern Macedonia after the government indefinitely extended a deadline for ethnic Albanian rebels to lay down their arms. The government on Thursday stated 1,500 refugees had left, who said they could no longer stand the army's shelling and the fear of a renewed assault.
NATO Secretary-General, George Robertson, reiterated the alliance's support for Macedonia, but urged the authorities in Skopje to show restraint.
Villagers have faced worsening conditions He said a disproportionate use of force would alienate the civilian population and might lead to similar conflicts elsewhere in the region. Media sources in Macedonia says the rebels are under intense diplomatic pressure to lay down their arms, as they can have no place at the negotiating table until they do so. If they agree, they are being promised amnesty, and the chance to set up their own political party, or to join existing Albanian political parties in Macedonia.
However, no Macedonian Government official or representative of the international community are willing to engage in direct dialogue. All messages to the Macedonian government, must go via Albanian politicians in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, or Tirana, the Albanian capital. There is no evidence that they will react favourably. If civil war is avoided, the impatient ethnic Albanians seeking more rights in Macedonian society will have to be speedily addressed, sources say.
Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said that security forces would not launch an immediate offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels, despite the expiry of a deadline issued earlier this week. "We believe that the ceasefire is producing results," he said in an official statement.
Western diplomatic sources say a breakthrough is close in efforts to persuade ethnic Albanian fighters to lay down their arms. "We are close to peace," said one official, requesting to remain anonymous. Macedonia's new coalition government had warned on Tuesday the rebels would be "eliminated" if they failed to lay down their weapons by noon on Thursday.
18 May 2001
Source & Photo: www.bbc.co.uk
CIVILIANS CONTINUE TO FLEE VILLAGES
SKOPJE: After three weeks of constant shelling which failed to remove them, a Macedonian army offensive on Friday drove thousands of ethnic Albanian civilians from villages under the control of guerrillas. Their departure could clear the way for an all-out assault.
The army asserts that only the presence of "human shields" and the grave political fallout that a bloodbath have prevented it overunning the lightly-armed rebels. About 2,000 refugees fled north into Serbia overnight and 1,000 or so more left Vakcince in northeastern Macedonia on Friday as the army battled the terrorists for control of the villages. Continued fighting on Friday prevented Red Cross medical teams from reaching the area to check reports that at least seven civilians had been killed in the past 48 hours and several more wounded.
"We need a cease-fire but so far it has not been possible to get this security guarantee," said Annick Bouvier of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). "We want to get in to assess the situation and evacuate any injured."
Arriving at a railway station on the Yugoslav border, the Vakcince villagers sat in a field, the men separated from the women, possibly to be tested for signs of having used firearms. Plainly afraid they would be suspected of complicity with the rebels, the men's answers appeared evasive. "Nobody told us anything, good or bad," said one man. "How would I know?" replied another asked about casualties. "You just hear shooting, without knowing from where it comes. We were 38 people in a small room. There was no air."
During past halts in long-range shelling, called by the army to entice the exodus of the civilian population, male villagers were seen out in the lanes chatting and talking to rebels, while women and children were kept in basement rooms and shown to reporters. The imminent capture of Vakcince by advancing troops may have persuaded all sides it was no longer possible to hold out.
POLITICAL COALITION STILL ALIVE
In the capital, Skopje, political leaders met to repair relations between Macedonian Slav and ethnic Albanian parties, strained to near-breaking point by news of a "peace deal" the Albanians concluded in secret with a guerrilla political chief.
The outcome was inconclusive, but the exchange conciliatory, and the coalition which Western powers see as Macedonia's only chance of averting a slide to civil war was still breathing. The secret meeting had so outraged some Slav political leaders that Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said "no mercy" could now be shown to the rebels.
There was no accurate means of assessing how many villagers might remain in Lojane, Vakcince, Slupcance, Orizare, and a half dozen other red-roofed villages seized by rebels three weeks ago. Military analysts said it might take weeks more to drive a motivated rebel force of several hundred from the area.
The commander of a special police unit had been suspended for withdrawing from the Vakcince front without authorization, apparently after guerrilla snipers wounded three of his men.
PACT WITH REBELS TO BE RENOUNCED?
But the safety of civilians is considered to be paramount. A high toll could tip the balance toward the breakup of the coalition, which is holding the republic together and staving off the threat of a civil war that could enflame the entire Balkan region.
Despite some unconfirmed reports of up to 60 civilians killed, a senior rebel commander said on Friday he knew of no more deaths than the seven victims he had named 24 hours earlier. Six were from the Zymberi family, reportedly killed when a shell pierced the concrete ceiling of their basement shelter.
Diplomats said the Macedonian Slav leadership was prepared to accept that the two Albanian party chiefs had made an honest error of judgment in meeting the rebel representatives, but they had to publicly renounce their peace document. So far, neither has done so.
The European Union and the NATO countries denounced the pact as an inadmissible legitimization of violence. The man who engineered it, OSCE Balkans envoy Robert Frowick, was asked to leave Macedonia, the Foreign Minister said.
Army spokesman Colonel Blagoja Markovski astonished the media at his regular briefing on Thursday by claiming, in spite of days of eyewitness reports and reels of video footage to the contrary, that no houses had been shelled.
26 May 2001
Macedonia's new government of national unity has ordered ethnic Albanian rebels to end their uprising within 48 hours, or risk a major military assault. The government said the ultimatum - ordering the rebels to lay down their arms or leave the country - was a final warning.
This is the last deadline we are giving to the civilians to leave the villages and the terrorists to leave their positions. The deadline is the first decisive move against the rebels by the new government, which includes two ethnic Albanian parties.
The new administration - formed only last Thursday after days of wrangling - is attempting to stop the country being sucked into a civil war by the rebel campaign. "This is the last deadline we are giving to the civilians to leave the villages and the terrorists to leave their positions," said government spokesman Antonio Milosovski.
"After this we will take adequate measures to finally eliminate the threat," he said. Mr Milosovski said that in the meantime, security forces would not launch any fresh offensives until the deadline had expired at noon on Thursday, but they would respond "if provoked".
Macedonian forces have been shelling and firing on several rebel-held villages for the past fortnight, leaving thousands of civilians trapped. Around 9,000 other civilians have fled across the border into neighbouring Kosovo.
The Macedonian army said it had killed 30 rebels during a massive operation on Saturday, but the militants have denied losing any fighters.
The new government's ultimatum comes a day after Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said he would crack down on the rebels, saying a "frontal assault" was under consideration.
Media sources say the new government faces a difficult task in persuading the rebels to withdraw without more bloodshed, while striking a deal to improve relations between Macedonia's ethnic communities and preparing for new elections.
Macedonia's new defence minister, Vlado Buckovski, confirming that a policeman had been injured in a rebel attack, warned that instant peace was not likely. "We must not bear any illusions that such attacks will halt overnight," Mr Buckovski said. "The new government has no magic wand but we will work painstakingly to solve our country's problems."
Source and photos: www.bbc.co.uk
RIOTING IN BITOLA
BITOLA - Crowds of Macedonian Slavs rioted in the southern city of Bitola, the second largest city in Macedonia, rioted on Wednesday, torching ethnic Albanian property in retaliation for a deadly rebel attack that rocked the fragile Balkan state which killed five soldiers, three of them from Bitola. The soldiers died in the late Tuesday attack on mountain outposts, the deadliest assault by ethnic Albanian guerrillas in almost six weeks.
Shocked Macedonian politicians said they were ready to declare a state of war to give themselves the powers to quell the insurrection, which began in February. Macedonia's Western allies urged the government to show restraint, warning that a declaration of war risked aggravating the insurgency, which has raised fear of a full-scale civil war.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Blucher said the government in Skopje should press on with inter-ethnic dialogue and maintain a "measured response" to the violence. "We don't see that a declaration of a state of war would serve to advance this kind of political reconciliation, political solution. We reiterate the importance of the measured response that the government has taken, showing maximum concern for the safety of civilians and pressing forth with this dialogue", he said.
Bitola suffered reprisals after the death of eight soldiers in April. Wednesday night crowds swept through the town burning at least 25 shops and the home of Macedonia's deputy Minister of Health, an ethnic Albanian, eyewitnesses said. "Its total chaos here. There is smoke everywhere and at least four shops of people I know have been burned",said Svetlana, a witness reached by telephone.
The town is now quiet, but is likely to remain tense with the funerals of some of the soldiers scheduled for Thursday.
7 June 2001
SHOTS EXCHANGED OVERNIGHT AT TETOVO
TETOVO: Prolonged action between Albanian terrorists and Macedonian security forces lasted more than four hours. The action which occurred between 11 pm and 2 am were the most intensive. Police sources say that Albanian terrorists from the locality Strmovo fired from mortars at a police checkpoint near the city stadium, which is near the Kuzman Josifovski - Pitu barracks, where KFOR soldiers from German regiment are located.
Early in the morning, Albanian terrorists opened fire from the canyon of the Pena river, Selce, Crven Kamen and the Bela Voda localities and from the Orlovac mountain at the checkpoints of Macedonian army and police near the Kale fortress and the village of Lavce, whereat security forces responded adequately.
Army and police sources report no casualties amongst the Macedonian security forces in last night's exchange of fire.. Shootings and sporadic detonations are heard this morning in Tetovo and its surrounding between 5 am and 7 am coming from the Bela Voda and Crven Kamen area.
Tetovo Interior Ministry Department says that the order for restricted movement during the night has been obeyed. At this moment, there are no gunfire or artillery exchanges near Tetovo
14 June 2001Source: www.mia.com.mk
NLA PEACE OFFER
Macedonia's ethnic Albanian rebels have offered to end their four-month insurgency if NATO peacekeepers are deployed across the country. The proposal came as NATO Secretary-General George Robertson and the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, arrived in the country to support rival proposals for a political solution put forward by President Boris Trajkovski.
The document signed by NLA political representative Ali Ahmeti called for "intervention of NATO forces in the whole territory of Macedonia, as a guarantee for reaching a lasting peace".
It also demanded:
It is the first time the rebels have called specifically for a NATO deployment.
Mr Ahmeti demanded "a political process, mediated and guaranteed by the US and EU, with the participation of the NLA, within which a political agreement will be reached as a basis for the change of the Macedonian constitution".
He said the NLA was "willing to co-promote Macedonia as a model of a multi-ethnic state within its present boundaries, through the realisation of the well-known demands of equality of the Albanians with the Slavs in Macedonia".
14 June 2001
MACEDONIAN SECURITY FORCES UNDERTAKE ACTION IN ARACINOVO
SKOPJE: "This morning at 04:00 Macedonian security forces undertake measures and activities for elimination of the terrorist groups in the village of Aracinovo, aimed to their breaking and creation of conditions for return of the civilians in this village, Macedonian Army General Staff Spokesman Col. Blagoja Markovski stated for MIA. According to Markovski, "the action is undertaken due to the danger from the actions of the terrorist groups in the past few days and the inability of the civilians to return in their homes and to continue with the normal life, as well as for the heavier armed actions of these terrorist groups directed towards the Macedonian security forces." The action is on going.
22 June 2001
Just what are the security forces in Macedonia doing? While the US and NATO procrastinate over military intervention in Macedonia, ethnic Albanian rebels have been successful in advancing to within mortar distance of Skopje International Airport, which is also an important rear supply base for the NATO troops in Kosovo. The Albanian rebels seem to be able to move around the country with impunity, receiving only minimal resistance from the Macedonian security forces. The Army and the paramilitary police force seem incapable of controlling the movement of rebels about the countryside.
The perceived threat to the capital and the airport has served to bring the governing coalition to seriously consider the deployment of NATO troops. But when and in what capacity is still unsure. Macedonia is now subject to the same vacillation by the US and NATO as was suffered by the Croatian, Bosnian and Kosovars in previous Balkan conflicts. From these previous conflicts, one would have thought that NATO would have learned that intervention is better sooner is than later. Skopje has been requesting military intervention to assist them to "decommission" the rebels, but no, NATO seems reluctant to commit troops and prefers to sit on its hands while it waits for Macedonia to try and engineer a political solution.
The president, Boris Trajkovski has put forward a peace plan, which has the backing of the west, that would serve to extend the current cease-fire, provide something of an amnesty for the rebels and to speed up the granting of equal rights to Macedonian Albanians.
This stalemate seems to edging Macedonia closer to civil war. The rebels feel that they have little to lose if they draw Macedonia into civil war. With massive unemployment, and the pittance offered in welfare payments, the rebels believe that civil war can only improve their options and their chance of forming the "Greater Albania" or "Velika Albanija".
On the other hand NATO has to commit to some form of peacekeeping role now. UN envoys have declared that "NATO needs to make it clear that it will not allow Macedonia to be "destroyed". The presence of NATO in Macedonia needs to ensure that that any presence by them is not used by Albanian rebels to add legitimacy to any territorial gains that they may have made this far.
Meanwhile the Macedonian Army and police need to take firm and decisive action to limit the movement and firepower of the rebels by taking proactive action and by enforcing the rule of law in Macedonia.
SKOPJE - Declaration of cease-fire commences the process that will lead to lasting solution of the crisis in Macedonia, NATO spokesperson in Brussels Mark Laity said Thursday for the Macedonian Radio.
He said that the Macedonian Government made a decision to proclaim cease-fire and submitted signed document on the matter to NATO.
"As you know, the so-called National Liberation Army (NLA) also signed a cease-fire document and submitted to NATO. This cease-fire is an essential step to reaching lasting political settlement for the problems in Macedonia," Laity said.
Asked about a start of NATO mission to Macedonia, Laity said it would depend on "lasting cease-fire and significant political progress".
"We must be certain that the so-called NLA will lay down its arms. It is essential. We are not coming here to force an agreement but to monitor one part of that agreement, i.e. disarming of NLA, Laity said giving credit to the Macedonian authorities for making such sensitive and right decision.
5 July 2001
Edited by George Brown
"We urge all parties to honor the agreements negotiated by NATO and the European Union and separately signed by Macedonia and the armed Albanian groups," reads Friday press release from the US Embassy in Macedonia.
The agreements indicate the willingness of the parties in Macedonia to work toward a political solution to their differences.
"US, NATO and the European Union are deeply committed to supporting the political dialogue that restarted Thursday in Skopje. Special Advisor Pardew remains in Skopje to work with the European Representative Francois Leotard to assist this political process and bring peace to Macedonia," the press release reads.
6 July 2001
Edited by: George Brown
According to the Macedonian Television, the terrorists shelled the Police station in Tearce and the Police post in Lesok, in Tetovo area.
The Albanian terrorists also fired mortars onto the Radusa watchtower as well as on the police station in that village.
The Macedonian security forces responded to these attacks with all available means.
It was relatively peaceful after midnight in the Kumanovo - Lipkovo area.
6 July 2001
Edited by: George Brown
The members of the Albanian terrorist groups who are engaging in the protracted civil unrest in Macedonia, state they are doing so to improve the rights of the Albanian ethnic minority in that country. While it is true that the rights of Albanian-Macedonian citizens have been less than their Slavic Macedonian neighbours, the truth of this statement may be far from what the rebels would have one believe.
It has often been stated that the majority of the Albanian rebels engaged in this conflict are those who were involved as fighters with the KLA during the conflict in Kosovo. During that conflict, the KLA had the support of NATO, the UK and the US against the might of Slobodan Milosevic, who is now been held by NATO authorities to face charges of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Albanian rebels now say that they form the NLA (National Liberation Army), their mission to improve their rights in Macedonia. But this time they do so against a duly elected democratic government, and have no support for their actions from NATO, the EU, UK or US.
The rebels are now seen by the western powers and the Macedonian Government to be terrorists who usurp the rule of law in Macedonia to achieve an uncertain end result. It has also been argued that these "displaced KLA rebels" have been engaged in criminal activities including smuggling and illegal trafficking of arms and goods over the Macedonian-Kosovar border, and the attempts by Macedonian security forces to close the border to this sort of activity is the real reason this conflict has begun, and the talk of human rights is no more than a smoke screen.
Consider the affect this conflict has had on Macedonian-Albanians. The majority of Macedonian-Albanians are peaceful law-abiding citizens who being adversely affected by this conflict. In the past months upwards of 100,000 Albanian villagers have become refugees, leaving their towns and villages in Macedonia and fleeing to the comparative safety of Kosovo. These people have lost their homes, their possessions, their livelihood and have become refugees all this while the NLA says they are improving the human rights of ethnic Albanian people. Ethnic Albanian citizens in other parts of the country have suffered in reprisals for the killing of members of the security forces, as was seen in the southern city of Bitola recently.
The Macedonian Government, mindful of the demands of the ethnic Albanian minority has attempted to take major steps to improve the rights of Albanians in Macedonia. Albanian members of parliament have been given a greater say in internal affairs, a Coalition of National Unity was set up and and a cease-fire signed with the NLA.
As the ceasefire came into effect, the control that the NLA has over the actions of the rebels was clearly evident. Not 24 hours had passed, and the cease-fire had been broken by Albanian rebels who had bombed and mortared various police targets in Northern Macedonia. It was interesting to note that Macedonian forces were reported by the MIA to have responded to these attacks "with all available means". It is of concern to the welfare of the citizens of Macedonia, whatever their ethnicity, that rebels are able to move so freely around the country, and to be able to carry out their attacks on police and military targets. Security forces are often reported as being notoriously "thin-on-the-ground" enabling rebels to move around at will, while President Trajkovski is reported to have demobilised thousand of police reservists prior to the cease-fire being signed. The true intentions of NLA may more sinister than most realise. An Albanian rebel is quoted as saying recently, "If we had tanks we could go all the way to Bulgaria and Athens". The true position of the NLA could well be to maximise the cause of the "Greater Albania" by attempting to achieve as much territorial gain as possible. Whatever the intention of the NLA, it has found an easy target in the Macedonian security forces and the government who have shown itself incapable of running a successful military campaign.
Whatever the political situation, the Macedonian Army and police need to take firm and decisive action to limit the free movement and firepower of the rebels by taking proactive and decisive military and policing actions and by enforcing the rule of law in Macedonia.
Waving placards and banners condemning Albanian terrorism and chanting "Shame NATO, shame", the protesters marched from Hyde Park to Martin Place.
The Macedonian Australian Council of Sydney called the rally to condemn NATO and the EU for obstructing the defence forces of Macedonia in their fight against Albanian terrorism.
The council wants the NATO presence in Macedonia to end, claiming it was protecting terrorists and ignoring ethnic cleansing.
The chairman of the Macedonian Australian Council, Igor Aleksandrov said the rally demonstrated the level of concern of Macedonian-Australians for the plight of Macedonians at home.
"We want to see the Australian Government, NATO and the EU support the immediate and legitimate removal of all terrorists from the Balkans as a basic precondition to peace in Macedonia and the Balkans".
The rally was one of a series of peaceful gatherings around the world, to protest the latest deal with Albanians in Macedonia.
Source: George Brown
"We have knowledge about three people being killed in Macedonia. One was Norwegian, one from Slovakia and one a translator from Albania," Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman Goesta Grassman told the AFP news agency. "It was probably a mine accident, but we don't know the exact reason for the mine exploding. It could be an accident but it could also be intentional," he added.
Macedonian Defence Ministry spokesman Marjan Djurovski said: "According to our information, the observer team was supposed to have been carrying out a mission in the area of Mazdraca and Novo Selo."
"A loud explosion was heard in this zone on Thursday, after which all contact with them was lost," he said.
The European Union has taken a prominent role in negotiations to find a political settlement in Macedonia but talks have stalled in recent days.
20 July 2001
MACEDONIAN PEACE EXPLODES IN NATIONALIST RIOTING
SKOPJE: The streets of the Macedonian capital, Skopje, exploded into anti-Western violence leaving little prospect to a peaceful end of the ethnic unrest in the republic.
Groups of protesters from the Slavic Macedonian majority raged through the city on Tuesday in response to military setbacks and accusing Western powers of aiding Albanian rebels to split Macedonia.
The rioters attacked the US and German embassies, a McDonalds restaurant and other western targets only hours after the Macedonian Government accused NATO and EU mediators of showing favour for the Albanian rebels.
Diplomatic sources within the country state that the government appears to have adopted an extreme nationalist agenda, rather than to grant additional rights to the Albanian minority which are needed to end the five month long ethnic rebellion. It was thought that the Macedonian Government was to grant additional rights to the Albanian minority, but now this seems to have evaporated in a mood of extreme nationalism.
Fierce fighting has once again erupted in Tetovo, with surrounding villages being raked by machine gun and mortar fire. In the third day of fighting in the Tetovo area the rebels and security forces have exchanged fire resulting in five persons being treated for injuries received during the fighting. The violence would appear to have negated the cease-fire which has been in place for 19 days.
This was by far the worst nationalist rioting seen in capital in over a month, with police doing little to stop the rampaging protesters who fear that their 10 year old country is being ripped apart by Albanian separatists. Moslem Albanians make up about 30 % of the population, the majority being Macedonian Slav Orthodox Christians.
Advances made by the Albanian rebels during the 19 day truce period have enflamed the the government. The "loss" of territory and the resulting exodus of Slavic Macedonians from their homes has brought Macedonia to the brink of civil war.
Macedonia has accused NATO and the EU of assisting the Albanian terrorists and accused American envoy James Pardew and EU negotiator Francois Leotard for allegedly allowing Albanians to break the conditions of the ceasefire. Both envoys were said to be shocked by the accusations. "I think we're in a period of hypernationalism. They're lashing out at the entire international community a diplomat was quoted as saying. "That's very damaging to negotiations and very damaging to the people of this country"
The Macedonian defence minister has stated that if the NLA does not withdraw from Tetovo, all further negotiation in the Macedonian conflict would be rejected and the conflict could escalate to civil war.
26 July 2001
"Unless the rebels pull out to their previous positions by noon (1530 IST), we will no longer listen to suggestions from any western mediator, and an offensive is not excluded as an option," the defence minister, Vlado Buckovski, and the interior minister, Ljuben Boskoski, said in a statement.
The threat followed a night of attacks on foreign embassies in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, by mobs accusing NATO of supporting the guerrillas, who have clashed with government forces in the country’s north.
The rampage started late yesterday with Macedonians throwing stones at the US embassy, smashing the entrances of the British and German embassies, and burning several cars belonging to the UN and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
A western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the US envoy, James Pardew, and his EU counterpart, Francois Leotard, planned to "meet parties in an attempt to avert the country from plunging into civil war".
NATO officials have denied providing assistance to the rebels. The US and other countries in the western alliance have repeatedly pledged their support to the Macedonian government and have backed its refusal to negotiate directly with the insurgents.
In Tetovo, lightly armed Macedonian police abandoned several checkpoints and were replaced by rebels.
27 July 2001
Another ugly scar on Macedonia`s landscape. Overnight, at least five homes in the village of Tearce, north-east of the ethnic Albanian stronghold of Tetovo, were burned down. Residents blame ethnic Albanian rebels and say they`ve had enough. "We have lived in the village for 66 years and have had no problems with Albanians," this man says. "But now we have to leave. We can`t live with them anymore." For many villagers, it`s the final straw. Some set up roadblocks in protest at the destruction. Others joined thousands of protesters in the capital, Skopje. There, they denounced the draft peace plan as a betrayal of Macedonia`s national interests and called on the full mobilisation of the armed forces. But far away in Ohrid, in the country`s south-west, the peace plan is still on the table. Leaders of both sides met for the first time since high-level talks collapsed more than a week ago. They took great pains to appear cordial, but at the end of day one, the mediators emerged exhausted. Francois Leotard an EU negotiator stated "We want to have a solution tomorrow, but it`s very, very difficult".
Some of those close to the talks say there is pressure to reach a deal by Monday. "If there is a political agreement," this ethnic Albanian rebel commander says, "We will respect that." Any solution will have to encompass the demand to make Albanian an official language. There is now a compromise being considered where ethnic Albanians account for more than 20% of the population. If that is not acceptable, Macedonia may lose its last chance for peace.
29 July 2001
"Die Welt" states what the Macedonians already know, what will the reforms in the police system mean in practice. "In the future not a single Macedonian police patrol will dare to enter an Albanian village, especially in Tetovo area. Not a single Macedonian court executioner will emerge there. Everyone is familiar with the fact that a majority of the Albanian population, who requires its 'rights', do not pay taxes," reads the German daily.
"Why however the Macedonians are mostly afraid of the language issue?," asks the journalist from "Die Welt."
"They see therein a Trojan horse, whose consequence will be a new status for the Albanian minority as a 'constitutional nation'," assesses the paper.
"They are afraid that with it the conflict will not be settled, and after some time the Albanians will raise new demands and at the end there will be a referendum, which will legitimize their separation," adds "Die Welt.
31 July 2001
Source: "Die Welt" - Berlin
There was no immediate word of casualties, despite the "frequent sniper shots" fired on police on the slopes of Mount Sara, just north of the predominantly ethnic Albanian city of Tetovo, the report said.
News of the cease-fire violations came as European Union security chief Javier Solana announced plans to travel to Macedonia to bolster efforts to create a peace plan for the troubled Balkan nation.
Solana was to fly from Ukraine to Macedonia on Sunday to attend the talks at the lake resort of Ohrid, said his spokesman, Christina Gallach.
"He wants to support the negotiations at this particular moment," she said. "We hope for final progress as soon as possible."
A truce was signed to facilitate negotiations between the majority Macedonians and ethnic Albanians on a complex, Western-designed peace plan, but scattered clashes have continued throughout nearly a month of talks.
Negotiators are now focusing on increasing the number of ethnic Albanians in the country's police force in talks that Western officials described as "very difficult."
The talks included discussion of deploying dozens of foreign police experts and officers to help carry out reforms if the rival sides agree on a peace plan, officials said Saturday on condition of anonymity.
The officers and experts would come on top of the estimated 3,000 NATO troops that the proposed peace plan envisages to help disarm the ethnic Albanian rebels.
Ethnic Albanians are demanding that their sizable community -- which makes up 25% of Macedonia's population of 2 million -- be proportionately represented on the force, especially in areas where they are the majority.
They also want to independently elect police chiefs who would answer to local leaders rather than the central government in the capital, Skopje. The ethnic Albanians also demand that the rebels become members of the police force once a peace deal is reached.
Macedonians see these demands as part of an ethnic Albanian strategy to ultimately carve off and break away northwestern regions where the restive minority lives and where the rebels already control chunks of territory.
Several Macedonian-populated villages in the area have been cut off for days by the rebels. Authorities dispatched a humanitarian convoy Saturday with 40 tons of food and medicine to help the civilians.
But a few hundred ethnic Albanian civilians stopped the convoy around noon by blocking a road and refusing to let the aid reach the Macedonians, said a relief worker with the convoy, Saso Klekovski.
The insurgency, which began in February over ethnic Albanian demands for more rights, has left dozens dead and thousands displaced.
4 August 2001
Source: Misha Savic - AP
The "Albanian National Army" (AKSH) e-mailed a statement to several Albanian-language media in the region, saying a combined unit of its fighters and of the so-called National Liberation Army (NLA) carried the attack out "in revenge" for the killing of five NLA members by Macedonian security forces.
This new extremist Albanian organization threatens it does not intends to stop the war and to recognize any political agreement, reached by the leaders of Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political parties.
The group has announced its existence few days ago when it took responsibility for the killing of two Serbian policemen in the village of Muhovac, in southern Serbia.
A Kosovo newspaper quoted Thursday a top NLA commander Gzim Ostreni as saying that terrorists have welcomed the political deal made in Ohrid.
"The agreement meets the goals that everyone was committed to - the United States, European Union, all the people and NLA as well," Ostreni said.9 August 2001
The incident is likely to further jeopardise a tentative peace plan which was agreed on Wednesday after 10 Macedonian soldiers were killed in an ambush.
Those 10 soldiers are due to be buried in their home town of Prilep later on Friday and it is feared that the funerals could inflame ethnic tensions once more - a mosque in the town was razed to the ground hours after the killings.
Soon after the landmine incident there were reports of fighting between ethnic Albanian rebels and Macedonian troops erupting in the area.
Ethnic Albanian sources in Ljuboten, speaking to The Associated Press, said at least one house was "levelled" in the ethnic Albanian village, which was sealed off by government troops.
There are also reports of further fighting on the outskirts of Macedonia's third-largest city, Tetovo.
On Thursday Macedonian air force jets were used for the first time to bomb rebel positions around Tetovo.
Peace in tatters
Diplomats have described the use of warplanes as a serious escalation of the fighting and it has raised serious doubts about a Western-brokered peace plan due to be signed on Monday.
US envoy James Pardew, speaking in Sofia, Bulgaria on Friday, condemned the violence saying, "The use of force by the Albanian extremists in Macedonia is unacceptable and totally rejected by the United States."
But he said that he remained optimistic that a peace deal would be signed in Skopje on Monday as agreed by Macedonia's rival parties on Wednesday.
However, a BBC correspondent in Macedonia says the upsurge in fighting has left the peace deal agreed on Wednesday in tatters.
Diplomats said that the next few days would be crucial if the peace accord is to be salvaged. "It doesn't look good," one said.Fierce Fighting
Thursday's air attacks followed a day of fighting in Tetovo between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian rebels, with reports of rocket and small arms fire - and at least 10 civilians injured.
The latest fighting in Tetovo was described by a Macedonian army spokesman as some of the fiercest yet. Macedonian radio said the city resembled a ghost town, with reports of shooting and explosions in the morning and afternoon.10 August 2001
The army is also on the offensive - fierce clashes threatening to derail talks aimed at sealing a peace agreement. The big guns say it all. The word on the ground here is that the cease-fire is over, that this is war. The Macedonian Army is throwing everything it has at ethnic Albanian insurgents entrenched in the hills around Tetovo.
But it has failed before. And after provoking the attack by ambushing and killing 10 soldiers, the guerillas are hitting back - hard. In the south of the country, untouched by the conflict, hopes for a peaceful settlement are going up in smoke. The mosque in the town of Prilep, the home of the soldiers killed in yesterday`s ambush was destroyed by fire. Nationalists are making it clear that the town is now a no-go zone for ethnic Albanians - are also torching shops and homes.
"Death to Albanians", reads graffiti sprayed on the walls of a burned out building. "It is not good that we are burning mosques and destroying Albanian shops," says an old man. "But the Albanians are destroying our churches and terrorising our people."
In the capital, Skopje, the seizure of another weapons cache, including more than 230 kilos of explosives, has added to speculation that the rebels are planning a major strike.
But peace talks are continuing. Defence Minister Vlado Buckovski appealed for calm. "This is a crucial moment for our country," he said. "We have to keep our cool."
But on the streets, there`s another message. "If we want to defend our dignity and our country," says this man, "I think war in Macedonia is unavoidable."
Nationalists have turned up the heat on the government to abandon the peace process, and wipe out the rebels in the north.10 August 2001
After two days of heavy fighting, an uneasy calm has settled on Tetovo. Those who`ve emerged from cellars to inspect the damage believe this is just a lull - that the worst is yet to come.
With ethnic Albanian rebels now in control of half the city, the army is rushing reinforcements in, determined to push them back. But the rebels are also moving fresh fighters into the front-line. And they`ve never appeared so confident. Well trained and disciplined, they march openly through the hills between the Kosovo border and Tetovo. And they show no fear of attack by the army or its helicopter gunships.
From camps in the hills, patrols move out to reinforce units in Tetovo and to ambush army convoys exposed on mountain roads. Burnt-out vehicles litter the hills.
10 soldiers were killed near here two days ago. Seven more died yesterday when their vehicle hit a landmine. As casualties mount, the peace deal signed just two days ago granting the ethnic Albanian minority more rights seems unlikely to be implemented.
Politicians are now talking openly of civil war. Government Spokesman, Antonio Miloshoski stated "We`ve never been faced with such a serious crisis because with this crisis we are on the brink of inter-ethnic civil war in Macedonia."
In the south, the people of Prilip bury a soldier killed last week in the ambush that sparked the current escalation. Many here now firmly believe that the rebels are determined to carve out a separate Albanian state, and fear their country is being torn apart.
11 August 2001
Helicopter gunships attacked rebel positions in the town of Radisa, just 200m from the border with Kosovo. After two weeks of some of the bloodiest fighting in the eight-month conflict, the military is desperately trying to seal the border. Jet fighters have been thrown into the attack, troops have also pushed into the nearby border village of Kondovo. As night fell, tanks rolled right up to the frontline.
The government says that in recent days 1,000 ethnic Albanian insurgents trained in Kosovo have crossed the mountains here, determined to carve out a separate Albanian state.
Antonio Molovski, a Macedonian governmemt spokesman said today "All of them are coming into Macedonia from Kosovo side and main part of them are present or former members of Kosovo Protection Corps."
There is ample evidence that the rebels are infiltrating, moving freely through the hills to the north of Tetovo, attacking army patrols, ambushing military convoys and re-enforcing units now in control of half the city.
They`re heavily armed, and prepared to take on anything the army can throw at them.
As battles raged in the mountains to the north, a soldier killed in a land mine explosion, along with six others, is buried in the capital Skopje.
After two weeks of intense peace talks this should be a time of hope. But on the eve of the scheduled signing, hope is rapidly fading.
As the death toll rises, many here are against an agreement, others doubt that it can ever be implemented and Skopje tonight is a city of grief and fear.12 August 2001
The Macedonian government said five ethnic Albanian rebels died in the house, killed in a police raid on a hideout. Interior Ministry officials said the guerrillas resisted arrest.
But several hours after the deaths, the house looked more like the scene of a summary execution. A reporter saw no signs that the victims had fired a shot at the raiders. Windows were closed, and no bullet holes nicked the walls or ceiling. The front door had not been forced open.
"There was no evidence at the scene to support the government version of events," said Peter Bouckaert, an investigator in Skopje for Human Rights Watch, who also inspected the house.
"There was no sign of an exchange of fire, and the victims appeared to have been shot as they were lying on the floor."
12 August 2001
The mission is called Operation "Essential Harvest", but it might be a harvest that is hard to bring in. NATO Secretary-General, Lord Robertson, was in Skopje as Macedonian and ethnic Albanian leaders signed the peace accord aimed at ending six months of fighting and averting the fifth Balkan war in a decade.
The ethnic Albanians will get a bigger role in the police and parliament, more funding for education and limited official status for their language. But in return they`ll have to disband, vacate occupied land and give their weapons to NATO.
Lord Robertson said today, "I think we are more confident now, today, that the agreement will be implemented and that peace will return and that the insurgents will surrender their weapons and their arms."
3,500 NATO troops from the US and Europe, and lead by Britain, will spend 30 days in Macedonia to implement the treaty. But they`ll only move in when there`s a durable cease-fire and there`s no timetable for that.
Even as the European leaders arrived for the signing of the accord, there was fighting in the north of the country and the army remains alert and nervous. So are ethnic Albanians who number about one-third of the population.
Many are surrounded by ruins of their homes and lives. They say they won`t feel safe until NATO arrives. Faton Alili said "We are still afraid that some military forces could come into the village and they could do who knows what. We can`t be sure yet, before the NATO forces come."
NATO planners have already gone to Macedonia to prepare for the arrival of the main military force but just when that will be is still far from clear14 August 2001
But tensions in the region have yet to subside. There have been sporadic battles between government troops and rebels in the country’s north. And in nearby Kosovo, NATO troops have exchanged fire with rebels after they arrested 16 guerillas trying to cross the Macedonian border.
At the same time, claims that Macedonian police shot dead five unarmed ethnic Albanians on the weekend have raised fears among Western observers that the peace process could still be undermined.15 August 2001
17 August 2001
But even before the deployment began, there was a bad omen. Albanian guerillas were responsible for the death of Macedonian policeman during a fierce gun battle in the town of Tetovo yesterday.
18 August 2001
NATO is hoping a swift disarmament mission can prevent a fifth Balkan war in a decade without the need for peacekeepers. But NATO commanders are worried about being trapped between the volatile front lines. The approach has angered many Macedonians.
Sixty protesters blocked a major NATO supply route on the Kosovo border, claiming NATO was favouring ethnic Albanian groups. Macedonian police looked on as the demonstrators turned back two cars from Kosovo’s NATO peacekeeping force and vehicles carrying international monitors.
The protest was organised by a nationalist group called the World Macedonian Congress. Its leader said the road would remain blocked unless NATO forced ethnic Albanian rebels to free Macedonian prisoners and returned captured land.
19 August 2001
US, British, Czech and French Air Force transport planes have been touching down in Skopje, with troops and supplies for the 400-strong task force spearheading NATO`s latest mission. But even as the troops marched across tarmac, questions were being asked about their role here.
Major-General Gunnar Lange, a NATO Task Force commander stated today, "It is not a peacekeeping mission. It is not an intervention force and it will not be separating the fighting parties."
The task force is here to size up the chances of collecting weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels operating freely in much of the north of the country. If the mission gets the thumbs up, 3,500 NATO troops will start collecting weapons - but only if they`re handed in voluntarily. And only if the current shaky cease-fire between the rebels and government forces holds.
Brigadier Barney White-Spunner, the British NATO Task Force commander added: "When and only when the conditions on the ground are acceptable will we advise the NATO chain of command that from a military point of view we consider it advisable to deploy troops on the ground to conduct weapons collection tasks. If either side fails to cooperate then there`s no role for this task force here in Macedonia.
Many Macedonians still don`t trust the rebels, who they believe are insurgents from Kosovo with no intention of either handing over their weapons or of surrendering control of territory captured since February.
Nationalists have blocked the main road between Skopje and Kosovo - the supply route used by the 60,000-strong international peacekeeping force in Kosovo. The demonstrators don`t just want the rebels disarmed, they want international help to drive them out of Macedonia. "We`ll stay here until our demands are met," said one organiser.
But NATO has no intention of getting involved in a war here. The crucial decision on whether it has a role to play in Macedonia at all, will be made within days.
19 August 2001
The NATO commander in Europe arrives in Macedonia tonight. It is his decision whether to recommend a full deployment of NATO troops to assist in rebel disarmament.
NATO sources say the fighting broke out on the outskirts of Tetovo - one of the rebel strongholds. The Macedonian military accuses rebels of opening fire first. But locals say villages packed with civilians were bombarded by government fire.
The action could not have come at a worse time. It followed an assurance by rebel leader Ali Ahmeti that the National Liberation Army is ready to surrender weapons. "We will give up all our arms because we no longer have any need for them" he said today.
Ahmeti appeared in front of the flags of NATO, the EU, the US and Albania. The flag of Macedonia was nowhere to be seen. The government responded angrily to this provocation. The Macedonian Interior Minister called for Ahmeti`s immediate arrest on charges of terrorism.
NATO is still deciding whether to commit their troops because of the continuing political instability. There are 400 advance troops on the ground preparing for a possible larger contingent to collect surrendered weapons.
Lt Col Mark Armstrong said today "When you bring in a total force of 3,500 people, you can't just bring them in in one day or two - there is a whole infrastructure that's got to be put in so the troops we've got here at the moment are out on the ground finding locations for these troops to go into when they arrive."
There is no certainty that Operation Essential Harvest will go ahead.
Nationalists continue to block the main road through Macedonia in protest at the international presence. The NATO commander in Europe, US General Joseph Ralston, arrives tonight to assess the situation for himself. Politicians in Brussels are expected to decide whether to go ahead with the mission by the middle of the week.21 August 2001
This would be the third NATO`s third deployment in the Balkans in 10 yearsThe NATO commander, US General Joseph Ralston, has briefed the members after a fact-finding mission to Skopje.
Yves Brodeur said today "Essentially now that the information has been provided to delegations, it`s for members of the alliance to feed that into their own process and to pass that judgment. So, that`s where we are at now."
Rather than vote for the deployment in Macedonia, where ethnic Albanian rebels have waged a 7-month battle against government forces, members signify their assent by staying silent.
In Macedonia itself there`s a tenuous ceasefire remains in force - and NATO`s 30-day mission will be to collect the weapons the Albanian rebels have agreed to lay down.
The President of Macedonia, Boris Trajkovski said "We are trusting NATO and we expect that NATO will complete their activities in the time frame which has been outlined by them.
An advance party for the 3,500 multinational NATO force is already in the country preparing for the deployment. NATO is not in Macedonia to make or keep the peace. If the cease-fire collapses the troops will pull out, and events in the past 24 hours show how delicate the cease-fire is.
Just after 0300 this morning, the church of Sv Atinasi was destoyed by explosives set by Albanian rebels. Macedonians see this as a direct attack on their religion, culture and identity. Their government says that ethnic Albanian fighters did it. Proof, it said, that they don`t want a cease-fire. Overlooking the church is a position controlled by ethnic Albanian fighters from the NLA.
Albanian rebels were asked if they blew up the church. "Never!" they replied. "It's not true." Rebels claimed that Macedonians had done it to discredit them. It`s certainly not clear who`s responsible, but circumstantial evidence points to Albanians. The church is in Lashok, a Macedonian enclave in the heart of rebel-held territory. It`s a no-go area for Macedonian security forces.
Only 15 Macedonians are left in Lashok - defenceless people like 80-year-old Zora Kovachevska. She says they`re hungry, abandoned and scared. Next to the ruins is the grave of Kiril Pichinovich, a father of the modern Macedonian language. In 10 years of war in former Yugoslavia, places like this have often been targeted deliberately to deepen the divisions between its peoples. "It`s a difficult and dangerous time here, and somebody did this to make it much worse. It won`t get any easier when NATO arrives in full force." It could get much more complicated. In the village, Goretza Atinosovska is frantic about her son and daughter. "We need only peace," she said. "Why should the children be so frightened?"
22 August 2001
Source: www.theworldnews.com.au - Edited by George Brown
There are Dutch soldiers arriving in Skopje, the latest contingent from the 13 countries that will make up the NATO force. The troops are turning parts of the capital into armed camps ahead of moving out to collect weapons surrendered by ethnic Albanian rebels.
General Gunnar Lange said today: "No decision has been made on when collections will actually begin, but they will begin next week."
But just how many weapons does Operation Essential Harvest have to bring in?
NATO has promised to collect one-third of all rebel arms. Western estimates say the rebels would have to surrender less than 3,000 weapons - something like one weapon for every NATO soldier. But this Macedonian Government spokesman says the rebels hold over 60,000 arms, making it a very different, and much more difficult, task.
What is certain - Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia are awash with deadly armaments. 280,000 Kalashnikov rifles, one million anti-tank missiles and one billion rounds of ammunition.
British forces have already started covert operations in rebel sectors and the attitude there is sobering. Rebel commander Ilya says "If we disarm and the cease-fire fails, we`ll simply buy more guns." It`s the lack of definition of the NATO mission that`s causing concern in Germany. The cabinet has agreed to send troops. But Chancellor Schroeder faces a tough fight to get the approval of parliament.
A parade by Greek troops preparing to go to Macedonia attracted anti-NATO demonstrators. There is still no love lost between the Macedonian people and the Greeks after the latter countries oppostion to the use of the name, Macedonia
If the NATO mission bogs down, as many have been predicting, the voice of protest is likely to grow louder.3 August 2001
NATO aims to collect 1,100 weapons in the next few days. That figure must be reached say Macedonian officials, before the government agrees to implement constitutional changes demanded by ethnic Albanians. At the same time, rebels have released seven Macedonians held north of Tetovo. This is the second such release of prisoners in two days.
27 August 2001
Nearly 300 assault rifles "AK-47 Kalashnikov", 60-80 light and 10 heavy machine guns, 20-30 rifles, 10-15 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 5-10 60-mm mines, 5-10 82-mm mines, several mortars, anti-tank weaponry, nearly 200 rounds of ammunition, around 500 rounds of NATO 7.62mm ammunition, around 50 mines, around 30 RPG anti-tank mine launchers, around 30 82mm bombs, around 400 rounds of 12.7-mm and other types of ammunition were collected today.
The collected weapons are sorted immediately, and a registration of its serial numbers is carried out. This "bagging, packing and boxing" is in progress, after which the weapons will be put in containers and transported to Krivolak.
"We do not possess the total number of weapons, but I am satisfied with what has been gathered so far. The most important thing is that the most expected weaponry has been surrendered, such as heavy machine guns, mortars and anti-tank mines. Part of the collected equipment was old, and part was new", Major Dick said.
Major Dick announced that if the operation continues with this pace, a third of the weaponry is expected to be collected until Wednesday.
NATO Spokesman in Macedonia Barry Johnson stated that according to evaluations, the so-called NLA has 3,000-3,500 active members. Asked whether this number was used to calculate the number of weapons in the field, Major Barry Johnson said that the number of rebels was one of the many factors taken into account while evaluating the number of weapons to be collected.
Asked whether the so-called NLA is withdrawing 2 km from the occupied roads in the crisis regions and if Macedonian security forces are withdrawing its heavy weapons, Johnson answered that he did not know whether the withdrawal process of the Macedonian security forces has ended.
"I do not know if the process has ended or not, but we have indications from several check-points that the NLA has been withdrawing from the roads. I do not believe that the process has ended, because they also waited for the process of withdrawal of Macedonian security forces to end", he said.
27 August 2001
Source: www.mia.com.mk Edited by George Brown
NATO sources say a group of youths threw a lump of concrete at the soldier's vehicle, which crashed.
The incident happened on Sunday evening as the soldier - Sapper Ian Collins of the 9th Parachute Squadron, Royal Engineers - drove the military vehicle along the main road towards Skopje from the airport.
A statement from the Ministry of Defence in London said: "A piece of concrete or similar object came through the windscreen and hit a soldier in the head. He was treated at a military medical unit and transferred to the neurological unit at Skopje Hospital and unfortunately died."
Many Macedonians from the majority population resent the arrival of NATO, accusing the forces of being biased towards the ethnic Albanian rebels - but there is no indication as to who carried out the attack.
Sapper Collins, 22, was taken to hospital, but died in the early hours of Monday morning. A second soldier was in the vehicle with him.
Hours later, the first weapons were picked up by NATO troops from collection points agreed with the rebels.
"We have begun the operation and collections are actively in progress," said Nato spokesman Major Barry Johnson. At one site, the village of Otlja near Kumanovo, rebels handed over 350 Kalashnikovs as well as other guns.
28 August 2001
Yet the situation remains highly volatile. No one knows how many weapons are held by the insurgents calling themselves the National Liberation Army, so no accurate assessment can be made of the impact of what they have so far surrendered on their fighting capabilities. Nato estimates put the total number of arms at 5,000 to 6,000. Mr Trajkovski, who supports the peace plan, has indicated his displeasure at the 3,300 figure to Lord Robertson, the alliance secretary-general. Ljube Boskovski, the interior minister, who is less enthusiastic, has demanded the NLA hand over the wholly unrealistic figure of 85,000 weapons. He and like-minded members of the main governing party, the VMRO, could block ratification of the deal in the Macedonian parliament. The government had no say in setting the disarmament target. That omission is storing up trouble.
And what of the Nato soldiers? Under the present agreement, they are supposed to collect and destroy surrendered rebel weapons during a 30-day period which began on Monday, after which they leave. But, given the tense political situation, their departure could trigger a return to the fighting which preceded their deployment. Neither Lord Robertson nor Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who visited Skopje yesterday, have ruled out an extension of the mandate to one of peacekeeping. Escorting Slav refugees back to villages held by the rebels and preventing excesses by the police are two of the areas where Nato could contribute to a political settlement.
The prospect for peacekeepers in Macedonia is more promising than it was in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo. The ethnic Albanians want a continued alliance presence, and the Slavs, apart from some VMRO hardliners, realise that they cannot defeat the rebels militarily. NATO is deeply involved in the former Yugoslav federation. Failure to achieve peace in Macedonia would have an adverse impact on its much larger presence in Bosnia and Kosovo, and thereby undermine the reputation it has built as a peacemaker since the Cold War ended. A commitment of more than 30 days seems inevitable. It is up to the Nato, European Union and US mediators, while restraining the ethnic Slav hardliners, to enable the democratically elected government in Skopje to regain control of all its territory.
31 August 2001
His remarks came as the Macedonian parliament resumed its debate on whether to accept proposals for resolving the seven-month conflict with ethnic Albanians.
Troops from several NATO countries who are supervising the collection of ethnic Albanian weapons are due to leave Macedonia by late September, if the mission is not extended.
They have so far collected more than one-third of the 3,300 weapons the rebels have agreed to hand over.
Speaking to journalists, Mr Hoon said: "It is certainly possible" that the mission may continue beyond its current deadline. "The mission is for 30 days. Obviously what we want we to see as a result of that mission is confidence on both sides," he added. "That will change the situation and in the meantime, clearly, we will be looking at what further steps might be necessary."
The parliament's discussions were suspended on Saturday by the parliamentary speaker, Stojan Andov, sparking fears that moves towards peace could unravel. Mr Andov stopped the parliamentary debate after a rebel roadblock near the country's second city, Tetovo, prevented a group of Macedonians from passing through.
The resumption of debate was welcomed by NATO spokesman Mark Laity, who said that the second phase of weapons collection was due to resume once a vote was taken. "I think an international presence to stabilise the situation in larger numbers than we have there now is probably essential in the near future".
But there were reports that only 63 of the 120 parliament members were present at the debate, and that many of those absent were from the main coalition partner, VMRO-DPMNE.
The party is led by Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, who signed the peace deal.
US envoy to Macedonia James Pardew told the BBC on Monday the international presence in the country may have to be enlarged.
On Saturday, Mr Andov said the debate would only resume if there was an end to roadblocks by ethnic Albanians, and all 70,000 displaced Macedonians were allowed to return home within days.
Diplomats said they had told Mr Andov that the peace process could not stop and start after "every little incident in the field".
On Sunday, Mr Andov told a Macedonian TV station that he had received assurances from President Boris Trajkovski that his conditions would be met.
The first stage of the debate will end with a vote to decide whether the Macedonian parliament should consider constitutional changes that are meant to guarantee greater rights for the Albanian minority. These include more participation in state institutions, and the adoption of Albanian as an official language in regions whose population is more than 20% ethnic Albanian.
Analysts say the parliament is likely to vote in favour of considering these proposals by a two-thirds majority on Tuesday or Wednesday. But they are concerned that there may be further suspensions or hold-ups in the subsequent ratification process.
3 September 2001
The vote is the first step the Macedonian parliament must take under a deal signed last month by Macedonia's main political parties.
It paves the way for NATO to resume its collection of weapons surrendered by ethnic Albanian guerrillas.
However, correspondents say many deputies will be reluctant to approve the next stage of the deal, which involves substantial improvements in the rights of Macedonia's large ethnic Albanian minority.
The EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten are due to arrive in Skopje later on Thursday. They are expected to promise substantial economic aid for Macedonia, but only if Skopje sticks to the terms of last month's peace deal.
The EU is planning to advance about $30m to help repair damage caused by seven months of fighting, and another $45m for the state budget.
Macedonia desperately needs the aid to support an economy drained by the conflict, and to boost living standards which are among the lowest in Europe.
The draft law on the general framework of the peace deal required the backing of 80 out of 120 members of parliament. Stojan Andov, the parliamentary speaker announced, "A total of 112 deputies have voted, 91 in favour, 19 against and two abstained. I conclude that the decision on embarking upon constitutional changes has been adopted"
Parliament's next move is to begin debating the details of the reforms outlined in the peace deal.
They include granting greater civil rights to Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority, such as improving the status of the Albanian language and increasing the number of ethnic Albanians in the Macedonian police force.
A NATO official in Skopje said on Thursday that the British-led weapons collections task force was poised to move within hours of the vote to secure the next collection site. NATO hopes to be out by 26 September.
Sometime after that, he said, the collection of weapons would resume. NATO has so far collected 1,200 out of a target of 3,300 weapons, but some members of parliament have argued the total figure is unrealistic and does not account for the rebels' most sophisticated weaponry.
Once NATO collects another third of the weapons, parliament will meet again to discuss the constitutional changes to be formulated in the coming days by a special parliamentary committee.
The BBC's Paul Anderson in Skopje says that it is at this point that the real problems may come. He says the plan involves deputies, many of them vehemently opposed to any concessions at all to the Albanian minority, adopting more than 30 amendments to the constitution. All of the amendments give the Albanians more power and better rights.6 September 2001
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