Albanian Leaders Condemn Macedonian Revolt

Albanian political leaders call on their ethnic kin in Macedonia to end their violent uprising.

Albanian Leaders Condemn Macedonian Revolt

Albanian political leaders call on their ethnic kin in Macedonia to end their violent uprising.

Diplomatic traffic through Tirana reached almost unprecedented levels this week as a succession of regional Albanian leaders arrived to discuss the growing crisis in Macedonia and southern Serbia.


Albanian officials, meanwhile, travelled to Vienna to meet Yugoslav counterparts ahead of a full restoration of diplomatic ties severed during the Kosovo crisis in 1999.


Tirana has sought to take a lead in condemning the violence in Macedonia and the Presevo valley in southern Serbia and has urged ethnic Albanian guerrillas in both regions to put down their guns.


Speaking after meeting Yugoslav officials on March 15, Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said, "We support any improvement in the status and rights of Albanians in Macedonia. Extremist actions will not help this. We condemn violence wherever it comes from."


On March 12 , Prime Minister Ilir Meta welcomed the leaders of the two main ethnic Albanian parties in Macedonia, Arben Xhaferi and Imer Imeraj. The three issued a statement saying "any violence goes against Albanian interests and the position adopted by political representatives [of the Albanian community in Macedonia]."


Xhaferi, leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, and member of the coalition government in Skopje, said, "As political representatives, we support peace, Macedonia's territorial integrity and the international community's efforts to secure peace and stability in the region."


He said the plight of the Albanian minority in Macedonia needed to be improved, but stressed his party sought to "work with Macedonian institutions to improve Macedonia's human rights record."


Later in the week, leaders from Kosovo arrived. Hashim Thaci, head of the Democratic Party in Kosovo, PDK, Agim Ceku, commander of the Kosovo Protection Corps and Veton Surroi, publisher of Kosovo's leading newspaper Koha Ditore, met Meta and other senior Albanian politicians.


One notable absentee was Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo, victors in Kosovo's recent local elections. But Tirana officials say Rugova is expected to visit soon, something he has been promising for over a year.


Thaci and Ceku held talks with President Rexhep Meidani, Prime Minister Ilir Meta, parliamentary speaker Skender Gjinushi, leader of the ruling Socialist Party, Fatos Nano, and opposition Democratic Party leader, Sali Berisha.


After the meetings, Thaci said, "the use of violence to meet political goals is not only unacceptable, we denounce it."


The prime minister's comments referred particularly to the recent flare-up of violence around Tetovo and to demonstrators who rallied in the city in support of the guerrilla action.


"Albanians should seek their rights through political and democratic ways and not through manifestations of force like that in Tetovo," he said. "Protests of this kind are against the Albanians' interests, against efforts to have their rights recognised and damages the image of all Albanians in the region".


The premier stressed Macedonia's sovereignty and integrity "are a necessity not only for Macedonia's stability but also for the region".


Meta called on the Skopje government to pay more attention to the grievances of the Albanian minority, especially their constitutional status within Macedonia.


On March 10, Milo met Macedonian foreign minister Srdjan Kerim in the eastern Albanian town of Peshkopi to discuss what role Albania could play in easing tensions in Macedonia.


Kerim stressed after the meeting that his government does not hold all Albanians responsible for the recent violence and promised more effort from Skopje to address Albanian grievances.


But on the same day, the Albanian parliament criticised Skopje for closing the border between Macedonia and Kosovo for the second time in a week and for calling on NATO to establish a demilitirised zone along the frontier.


"The internal problems of Macedonia are not Kosovo's problems, and even if provisional, the decision by Skopje to close its borders with Kosovo is unacceptable," the unanimously adopted declaration said.


The parliament also denounced "certain heads of state" - widely taken to mean the presidents of Greece and Bulgaria - for offering military aid to Macedonia. Such a policy only exaggerated the crisis in the republic, the MPs said. Bulgaria started shipping hundreds of tons of military equipment to Macedonia on March 9.


NATO too was criticised for authorising a limited return of Yugoslav forces to a section of the Kosovo security zone along the Serbian-Macedonian border.


The statement said Skopje should "not transform an isolated incident into a general crisis which could lead to the exodus of the Albanian population from Macedonia." Since then the situation in Macedonia has worsened.


Tirana's diplomatic efforts, applauded by the West, have helped to create a unified front of Albanian political forces in the region.


A move by Thaci to bring together Albanian leaders from Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania may take place in Pristina at the end of March.


Thaci has impressed on the Tirana government that the situation in Kosovo impacts all other Albanian-populated areas.


A similar project put forward by Nano last year failed to materialise after the international community voiced fears such a meeting could provoke divisions between Kosovo politicians.


Undaunted, the Albanian Socialist leader is planning another attempt at round table talks in April or May. Surroi has mentioned a similar project. If one of these takes place then it would be the first time in ten years that arch rivals Nano and Berisha have sat down together for talks.


Berisha's stand on the violence differs little from the official Albanian line - he too has condemned the guerrilla actions in Macedonia.


The former Albanian president also hailed the recent cease-fire agreement signed between Albanian separatist fighters in southern Serbia and the Belgrade authorities.


Now Tirana is awaiting the arrival of Rugova. It would be totally illogical for Kosovo's main political leader to stay out of the diplomatic efforts. Should Tirana fail to involve the LDK leader, it would undoubtedly be a set-back to a promising initiative. But it is Rugova who would be damaged the most.


Llazar Semini is IWPR project coordinator in Albania.


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