Albanian Divisions Threaten Accord

Peace hopes are threatened by the launch of a splinter Albanian rebel group and continuing divisions within Albanian political parties

Albanian Divisions Threaten Accord

Peace hopes are threatened by the launch of a splinter Albanian rebel group and continuing divisions within Albanian political parties

While commanders of the National Liberation Army, NLA, have confirmed that they will accept the peace agreement for Macedonia, a new military organisation has emerged rejecting any settlement.

In communiqué no. 9, distributed to various media outlets, the self styled Albanian National Army stated that it and "patriotic commanders of the NLA do not plan to stop the war at any moment or recognise any political agreement".

The group also claimed responsibility for the killing of ten Macedonian soldiers on the Skopje-Tetovo road on August 8.

Little is known about the new group. Its leaders have not appeared, and it has only communicated through a handful of statements sent to the media. One such statement prohibits all of its commanders from being interviewed by the media or being photographed or filmed.

Local media believe the Albanian National Army might be reassembling groups of former fighters who disagree with the peace deal. They may come from organisations now no longer in existence, such as the Kosovo Liberation Army or the National Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, which operated in southern Serbia until a settlement, including disarmament, was reached earlier this year.

In its statements, the breakaway faction has accused the NLA's Ali Ahmeti and leaders of Albanian political parties of making compromises that betray Albanians' national interests.

A recast Albanian rebel group in Macedonia could seek to continue the guerrilla war.

Of course, such a development would make NATO's Essential Harvest mission of disarming the rebels more difficult. According to the agreement, the Atlantic alliance will send some 3,500 troops for one month to assist the process.

With NLA commanders and Albanian politicians acknowledging that certain rebel elements are not under their control, delays and incidents are likely, creating pressure for NATO to extend its stay.

Western resistance aside, such a prolongation could increase ethnic Macedonian distrust in NATO and its mission. Ethnic Macedonians are already sceptical over what they fear could be the establishment of an international protectorate. Concerns over rebel demilitarisation could block the implementation of the peace agreement.

Of course, such a move would give a pretext to Albanian fighters, either from the NLA or other configuration, to delay disarmament. Such a turn of events could swell the ranks of the splinter Albanian National Army.

Meantime, the two main Albanian political parties have their own disagreements. Both have participated in the peace talks. But while Arben Xhaferi's Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, has expressed satisfaction with results, the Party for Democratic Prosperity, PDP, has said it does not go far enough to secure Albanians' rights.

The PDP has complained about the small number of Albanians included among police. It has also raised questions about the future status of Macedonian Albanians who fought with the rebels.

According to the Ohrid agreement, after disarmament, the Macedonian authorities are to declare an amnesty for all fighters, except those suspected of war crimes. But some former fighters might not accept a mere amnesty and might demand positions within state institutions.

Another contentious issue is Albanian-language education. According to participants in the negotiations, during the final days in Ohrid the two parties clashed openly over education policy. Xhaferi's DPA backs the South-European University for Albanians in Macedonia proposed by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Max van der Stoel. The PDP wants public financing for the unrecognised Tetovo University, which was launched several years ago with private funds against great resistance from the government. The agreement backs the first option, pledging to finance it for four years.

Sentiment over the issue should not be underestimated. The Tetovo University Students' Union has already accused the Albanian representatives of "walking on the blood of martyrs and the ruined houses during the fighting".

Such frictions among the Albanian parties will flare during the general elections planned for January 20, 2002. Even holding elections at such an unstable time could be asking for trouble, with both Albanian and Macedonian political parties tempted to use less-than-fair means in their race for parliamentary seats. They may try to exploit dissatisfaction on both sides with the agreement. Militant groups such as the Albanian National Army could also seek to take advantage of an election to gather support.

Still, hopes remain that the divisions within the Albanian parties which could threaten the deal will be overcome by the momentum created by the negotiations and the signing of the accords before international representatives. With continuous monitoring by the international community, all parties will be under strong pressure to comply.

Ironically, the signing of the contentious Prizren agreement back in June may serve as a positive sign, suggesting that Albanians will respect the current agreement.

That agreement unified the demands of parliamentary parties and the NLA. It was harshly criticised at the time by the Macedonian authorities and foreign diplomats in Skopje. But, in the event, it did give an unofficial voice at the peace table to the rebels, who now accept the process.

Indeed, despite inevitable criticisms that too many compromises were made, sources at the Ohrid talks insist that Albanian political representatives made no compromises without first gaining the approval of NLA commanders.

Thus there are hopeful signals that, despite the challenges and potentially destabilising political and military splits, the Ohrid process will be accepted by the majority of Albanians, who will agree that the only solution in Macedonia is through political means.

Veton Latifi is a political analyst and IWPR editorial assistant in Macedonia.

Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo
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