[interact_list] [Macedonia] Pessimism or_about realities on the ground

  • From: Akio Fujita <A.Fujita@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: interact_list@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 2 Aug 2001 12:43:42 +0100

[LA times only keep articles for 2 weeks on the website 
and after that they will be moved to archive - and retrieval
is not free of charge, so I send whole article.]

A pessimistic or tough perspective - 
in the midst of rush of 'Language deal was made' news reports
(since last night August 1st).


Macedonia Rift May Be Irreparable
-Balkans: Even if a peace accord is reached, leaders of the two ethnic 
groups could be unable to sell it. -

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Macedonia is dividing along ethnic lines, and it 
may be too late to stop it.

Regardless of the outcome of ongoing peace negotiations among political
leaders trying to halt a rebel insurgency, the divisions on the ground 
are becoming so stark that it is hard to imagine how the nation's two 
main ethnic groups will be able to live together again.

Already there are forced migrations, ensuring that areas of the country
are populated by a single ethnic group--either ethnic Albanian or 
ethnic Macedonian. And in those areas of the country that are majority 
ethnic Albanian, government armed forces have little control. "We did 
not consider this conflict to be ethnic to begin with, but the longer 
it takes for the peace process, the more likely that the results will 
be the same as those you would see in an ethnic conflict," said Maki 
Shinohara, a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency.

James Pardew, a U.S. mediator trying to bring the two sides together, 
expressed optimism Tuesday that an agreement could be close. One of the
ethnic Albanian negotiators, Imer Imeri, told the Reuters news agency 
that agreement on the main sticking point--the use of Albanian as an 
official language--was near.

But even if the political leaders' peace talks succeed, questions 
remain about whether the two sides can sell the agreement. Macedonia's 
parliament, feeling pressure from nationalists, may not be willing to 
implement it. Furthermore, leaders of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla 
movement have not been included in the negotiations and may not support
an agreement.

Diplomats say that in the best of circumstances, Macedonia will be more
divided in the future. And it could be in for a long period of sporadic
fighting and ethnic instability.

Elsewhere in the Balkans, ethnic groups have been driven at gunpoint 
from their homes, especially from areas where they were in the 
minority. Macedonia had escaped that fate, and it still is not 
happening on the scale it did in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, a province
of Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic.

Ethnic Albanians make up at least 25% of Macedonia's population, while 
ethnic Macedonians account for roughly two-thirds.

Forced migrations and the successful display of firepower by ethnic 
Albanian guerrillas have undermined the confidence of the ethnic 
Macedonian population.

"Life together is probably impossible from now on," said Slavko 
Mangovski, editor of the Macedonian weekly magazine Makedonsko Sonce 
(Macedonian Sun). "It is my belief that what the Albanians want is not 
language rights--as they are saying in the peace talks--but territory."

Each side has lost control of territory to the other through what both 
term "ethnic cleansing." Often, a relatively small, albeit 
intimidating, incident is used to send a message. In the current 
atmosphere of rising distrust and suspicion, it does not take much for 
people to feel vulnerable.

"One day I recognized my neighbors on television in a uniform with 
guns," said Boban Bogdanovski, 25, a native of the village of 
Aracinovo, near the capital, Skopje. "With a gun, you go to fight. How 
can I live here?"

Aracinovo was taken over by the National Liberation Army, the ethnic 
Albanian guerrilla movement, and then was taken back by the government.

Bogdanovski and his family, who lived in adjacent houses, decided to 
stay away from the village when the guerrillas first took over. Now, 
even though it has been recovered by the government, he does not plan 
to return. His house was destroyed during the fighting, and he said he 
cannot imagine rebuilding there.

"I'll never feel safe in my village again," Bogdanovski said.

Human rights groups and observers tell other, similar stories.

In Tearce, a village in a northern area that is predominantly ethnic 
Albanian, several houses were burned, sending a clear message to ethnic
Macedonians to get out. It appeared to work.

"We brought back a group of ethnic Macedonians after the guerrillas 
were expelled, and as the buses were unloading, those ethnic 
Macedonians who had stayed in the village told us they wanted to board 
the buses and leave as soon as possible," said a Western diplomat, who 
spoke on condition of anonymity. "That worries me."

Shinohara, of the U.N. refugee agency, said there has been "fairly 
deliberate forced movement in the areas around Skopje directed at the 
ethnic Macedonians" and noted that official figures, probably on the 
low end, show that 8,000 ethnic Macedonians have left that area.

Similarly, there was looting and vandalism in the southern city of 
Bitola that was directed at ethnic Albanians. The London-based 
International Crisis Group reported that as a result of the Bitola 
incidents, about 10,000 Albanians migrated from the city.

Altogether, about 44,000 people have been displaced within the country 
of 2 million, according to the Macedonian Red Cross, and 121,000 more 
have crossed the border into Kosovo and other areas of Yugoslavia to 
wait out the conflict. It is unclear whether they will return to the 
areas they fled.

There have long been fears that if Macedonia divides, it could drag 
neighboring countries into conflict.

"Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece all have particular historical interests 
in the region--the first two Balkan wars prior to World War I were 
fought over the territory--so that any violence there risks the 
possibility of escalation to a wider region," said Ivo Daalder, a 
senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington.

Diplomatic sources say the ethnic Albanian rebel army in Macedonia is 
far better armed and organized than its counterpart in Kosovo was two 
years ago during the war there.

If a peace agreement is signed, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization 
force is to be deployed in Macedonia to disarm the guerrillas.

But ethnic Macedonians believe that the guerrillas will never fully 
disarm and will remain an intimidating force that will continue to 
control the mountainous areas to the east and west of the capital.

Guerrillas shot two soldiers at an army checkpoint Sunday. Such 
incidents in ethnic Albanian territory have become almost daily 
occurrences, even after a cease-fire was restored last week.

The deaths of soldiers and police have attained a symbolic significance
among ethnic Macedonians.

On Monday in Skopje, the cavernous St. Clement's Macedonian Orthodox 
Cathedral was filled to overflowing and a crowd of hundreds thronged 
outside for the funeral of an army reservist. He was from the Tetovo 
area, a town about an hour from the capital that is at the center of 
rebel activity.

The funeral was held in Skopje because ethnic Macedonians did not feel 
comfortable holding it in an area dominated by ethnic Albanians.

On the other side, ethnic Albanians say they fear intimidation by 
largely untrained police and army reservists, who have recently been 
put on active duty. They say the government has given arms and 
ammunition to ethnic Macedonian civilians in mixed areas and encouraged
people to defend themselves.

"If there is going to be a demilitarization of the NLA, then there 
should also be a demilitarization of paramilitary Macedonian groups," 
said Emin Azemi, publisher of Fakti, an Albanian-language daily 
newspaper. "Otherwise, Albanians feel there will an imbalance that 
could result in violence toward Albanians."

Despite the evidence of forced migration, diplomats hope it can be 
contained because there has been far less brutality and violence here 
than elsewhere in the Balkans. They say that so far, there have been 
few atrocities and no use of such brutal tactics as systematic rape.

Still, they acknowledge that the distrust and suspicion as well as the 
beginnings of forced migration are the seeds of a bigger ethnic 

"Even in the best case, the country will be more divided," said a 
senior Western diplomat. "Ethnic Macedonians now, compared to a year 
ago, are much more hardened against the Albanians. The signing of a 
peace agreement will not be the end of the story." 

Akio Fujita

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