BBC: Peace Plan in Jeopardy (Update 1)
- Macedonian Peace Plan in Jeopardy
By Dusan Stojnovic
Associated Press Writer
Friday, Aug. 10, 2001; 7:38 p.m. EDT
SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Warnings that Macedonia is on the brink of civil
war came from all sides Friday as army helicopter gunships pounded an
ethnic Albanian village in retaliation for a deadly mine attack on a military
The army's attack on Ljuboten, just north of the capital, Skopje, threw into
jeopardy a tentative peace plan reached only two days before. The
Western-brokered deal is to be signed on Monday.
In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, NATO chief Lord
Robertson and European Union envoy Javier Solana, Macedonia's foreign
minister appealed for international help at "this most dramatic moment."
"Macedonia is facing the threat of civil war," Ilinka Mitreva said, claiming
ethnic Albanian rebels were fighting to carve off a part of the country. "We
must not allow Macedonia to perish in flames."
NATO ambassador Hansjorg Eiff and U.S. envoy James Pardew both
called the situation "critical."
Fighting escalated after a convoy of military trucks drove over two mines
Friday about six miles north of the capital, near the villages of Ljubanci and
Ljuboten. Seven Macedonian soldiers were killed and nine others were
wounded when the mines exploded, the Defense Ministry said.
A ministry statement blamed ethnic "Albanian terrorists" for planting the
mines and said rebels fired at the convoy after they exploded.
Ali Ahmeti, the political leader of the rebel National Liberation Army - or
NLA - would not say whether his group planted the mines.
"We have not verified who put those mines there, NLA or Macedonian
government forces," Ahmeti told the Voice of America's Albanian-language
However, Ahmeti said the rebels accepted the peace deal reached between
Macedonian and ethnic Albanian leaders on Wednesday.
In Skopje, angry demonstrators marched toward the U.S. Embassy in
Skopje to protest what some Macedonians call a Western bias favoring
Security forces turned them back, and they protested in front of parliament.
The crowd also ransacked and destroyed a handful of ethnic
Albanian-owned businesses, Macedonian state television reported.
In Ljuboten, villagers said at least one house was leveled and government
troops had sealed off the town. Helicopter gunships were shelling the
village, and hundreds of residents were hiding in basements. Mortar and
artillery fire could be heard in Skopje.
Elsewhere, police official said 11 rebels were killed as they attacked a
police checkpoint early Friday near Gostivar, a predominantly ethnic
Albanian town 30 miles southwest of Skopje. Another police source said 12
Macedonian police reservists were later abducted by the rebels in Gostivar.
The reports could not be independently verified.
Government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels also traded gunfire early
Friday outside Tetovo, Macedonia's second-largest city, the scene of heavy
fighting on Thursday.
President Boris Trajkovski convened his security council later Friday and
issued a statement pledging to press on with offensive actions.
The fighting threatened to undermine the tentative peace accord. The deal
aims to end an insurgency that began in February, when the rebels took up
arms and demanded greater rights for ethnic Albanians, who make up a
third of Macedonia's population of 2 million.
But government spokesman Antonio Milososki said that even if the
agreement is signed as scheduled, "we will have peace on paper and war on
"What the rebels want is war, and they will get it," he said.
A rebel commander who calls himself Sokoli, or Falcon, said there was no
reason for the rebels to lay down their arms when government forces were
using helicopter gunships and artillery against them.
"The situation is worsening and we are ready for everything," he said by
telephone from his mountain hide-out.
Western officials also warned the chances of a full-fledged civil war were
Pardew, who helped oversee the negotiations, said Friday in Bulgaria that
the rebel attacks were a serious setback. "It is critical that this political
agreement be signed on Monday."
The peace plan grants the restive ethnic Albanian minority a greater role in
police, parliament and education. Some 3,500 NATO soldiers would oversee
the disarming of the rebels, but only after the rival sides fully agree on the
deal and the fighting stops.
Barry Johnson, the NATO spokesman in Macedonia, said there is only so
much outside forces can do.
"The future of this country is in the hands of its people and the political
© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press