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Albanian Deal Threatens Coalition
The news hit Skopje like a bombshell on Thursday morning. Macedonia's two main Albanian leaders had signed a secret peace deal with NLA fighters in the north of the country.
The reaction to the news was immediate and scathing. "Xhaferi and Imeri sign document betraying Macedonia" ran the front page of the daily Nova Makedonija.
Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, leader Arber Xhaferi and Imer Imeri, leader of the Party for Democratic Prosperity, PPD, signed the accord with NLA representative Ali Ahmeti two days before in Kosovo.
In doing so, they provoked the wrath of Macedonian parties and threatened to destroy the new unity government.
The accord offered an amnesty for the guerrillas in return for a ceasefire declaration. It also gave the NLA a right to veto decisions relating to Albanian rights.
"These meetings are unacceptable and go against the government's and their own commitment not to negotiate with terrorists," President Boris Trajkovski said in a press statement on Thursday.
He called on Xhaferi and Imeri to immediately renounce the agreement. Or else "it will not be possible to work together," he warned, throwing the future of the newly broadened coalition government into question.
Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski appeared even more incensed by the deal. "The agreement," he said, "represents a declaration of war by the Albanians against the Macedonian nation."
Condemnation also came from the international community. "The EU and its member countries have already made clear the fact that there is no place for the NLA and its political representatives at the negotiating table," read a statement issued by the EU president's office.
The EU also called on the two Albanian leaders "to renounce the document in a way which shows no ambiguity".
While the US embassy condemned the meeting as "totally unacceptable" it did not comment on the role of Robert Frowick, a US diplomat and a senior envoy to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE .
Macedonian government officials and some Western diplomats here in Skopje said Frowick had not only encouraged Albanian leaders to meet with the rebels but actually mediated the agreement. Frowick has so far declined to comment on his role.
Frowick flew to Romania late Thursday ostensibly to discuss the situation with the foreign minister who holds the rotating chair of the OSCE.
Macedonian officials have criticized his part in the affair and some suggest that he was asked to leave the country.
On Thursday afternoon, Xhaferi and Imeri attempted to present their case to a meeting of a dozen Western diplomats at the US embassy in Skopje, indicating that they weren't prepared to tear up the deal.
Xhaferi told journalists after a second round of talks at the US embassy that "every party is an autonomous political unit and it is not right to ask him to renege on his decisions".
In reaction to the barrage of criticism, Xhaferi sent a message to Trajkovski to be
"careful with his statements" . He also implied that he was unhappy being pressured into disowning the contentious deal.
Imeri then made a surprise announcement. "We were encouraged to approach the NLA by the government and we did it for peace". Imeri added that Macedonian officials and international community were "overreacting".
Failing to clarify what he meant by government encouragement, he tried to calm the fears of those who took the deal as signifying a further rift between the country's two main communities. "Albanians support the preservation of Macedonian integrity and its multicultural character," he said.
Meanwhile, the Macedonian army launched a new offensive in northern Macedonia. Helicopter gunships and tanks were used against rebel held villages.
Nine civilians are reported to have died and some 200 wounded in the Likova area.
Among the dead were six members of the Zyberi family in Slupcane. One resident of the village described the humanitarian situation as appalling, "We cannot safeguard our families, tend to our wounded or bury our dead."
As the ethnic divide deepens, there's mounting frustration of the apparent reluctance of certain members of the coalition to discuss key Albanian demands.
All this is putting strain on the continued existence of the coalition. If it falls apart, it will lead to the wholesale deterioration of inter-ethnic relations which in turn could easily plunge Macedonia into all-out civil war.
Veton Latifi is an IWPR editorial assistant in Macedonia. Agim Fetahaj is IWPR's special projects editor
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