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NPost: Macedonia doubts peace deal will hold

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  • D. Dostanic
    http://www.nationalpost.com/news/world/story.html?f=/stories/20010811/642756.html NATIONAL POST, Saturday, August 11, 2001 Macedonia doubts peace deal will
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 11, 2001
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      http://www.nationalpost.com/news/world/story.html?f=/stories/20010811/642756.html

      NATIONAL POST, Saturday, August 11, 2001

      Macedonia doubts peace deal will hold

      International community asked to reconsider plan

      Philippa Fletcher
      Reuters

      SKOPJE - Macedonia suggested yesterday that the international community
      rethink its plan to end a six-month-old ethnic Albanian insurgency, saying
      recent guerrilla attacks made it clear the rebels would not simply lay down
      their arms.

      In an emotional appeal to NATO, the United Nations and the European Union,
      Ilinka Mitreva, Macedonia's Foreign Minister, said in an open letter that
      the guerrillas, who have taken large swaths of territory since they appeared
      in February, were bent on splitting the country.

      Ms. Mitreva said a peace deal initialled by Macedonian and ethnic Albanian
      leaders on Wednesday would not work unless the international community
      identified, defined and exposed the composition and goals of the rebel
      National Liberation Army.

      "Under the cloak of a struggle for greater minority and human rights, the
      so-called NLA clearly wants to realize one aim: division of Macedonia ...
      and changing the borders in the region," she wrote.

      NATO has promised a force of around 3,500 troops to collect guerrilla
      weapons once the political agreement is signed and an amnesty is declared,
      and if the rebels agree to disarm and a stable ceasefire is in place.

      Ms. Mitreva's plea followed the deaths of seven Macedonian soldiers
      yesterday when their truck ran over a land mine believed to have been set by
      Albanian rebels.

      Fighting between ethnic Albanian rebels and government forces erupted in the
      area 10 kilometres north of the capital, Skopje. Ethnic Albanian sources in
      Ljuboten said at least one house was levelled in the ethnic Albanian
      village, which was sealed off by government troops. A villager, speaking by
      telephone on condition of anonymity, said government forces were using two
      helicopter gunships to shell Ljuboten, whose hundreds of residents were
      hiding in basements.

      The region close to the capital has not previously been involved in the
      clashes. Detonations of mortar and artillery fire could be heard in Skopje.

      "This is a critical phase for peace in Macedonia," said Hansjorg Eiff, the
      NATO ambassador to Macedonia. "The situation is serious and our
      possibilities are limited" to stop the escalation in the fighting.

      Some Macedonian hardliners regard the peace plan as capitulation at gunpoint
      to demands for more rights for ethnic Albanians, who make up about 30% of
      the population. Rebel hardliners also believe their best chance lies in more
      fighting, which has made an absurdity of an already ragged ceasefire
      supposedly in effect since July 5 between government forces and the NLA.

      A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said it was gravely
      concerned. "It is a very alarming picture. The danger of sliding into
      all-out-war mounts with every incident," Kris Janowski told a news briefing
      in Geneva.

      Ms. Mitreva said the deaths of the seven soldiers, which came two days after
      10 government troops were killed in a rebel ambush, showed voluntary
      disarmament was unlikely.

      "Since it is natural to assume that, following everything that has happened,
      the so-called NLA will not proceed with voluntary disarmament, perhaps this
      should be a sign for the process and plan for disarmament to be redesigned,"
      her letter said.

      "Let us not allow Macedonia to burn in flames. This will be a European
      flame. It will burn our and your conscience," Ms. Mitreva's letter
      concluded.

      Yesterday, Vlado Buckovski, the Defence Minister, called on Macedonians to
      put their bitterness aside and support a peace deal with the ethnic
      Albanians.

      "Let us give peace a chance," Mr. Buckovski said. "Believe me, the situation
      will be even more difficult if war comes to our homes."

      Some Western analysts have suggested the only way to solve the crisis is for
      NATO to forcibly disarm the rebels, but the alliance has ruled this out,
      fearing revenge attacks on its peacekeepers in neighbouring Kosovo, a
      predominantly Albanian province.

      Several hundred youths marched through the capital late yesterday to protest
      the killing of the seven soldiers, waving Macedonian flags and shouting,
      "Albanians to the gas chambers."

      The protesters attempted to storm the U.S. embassy but were turned back by
      riot police.

      The protest was the latest expression of Macedonian resentment towards the
      West, which the Skopje government has regularly accused of indirectly
      helping ethnic Albanian rebels.


      letters@...


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