Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

End to Macedonian Crisis in Sight?

There are signs a peaceful resolution of the Macedonian conflict may be just around the corner
By Branko Geroski

The Albanian fighters are weary and disappointed - they haven't achieved their goal. The Macedonian authorities are tired and ready for compromise. The international community is offering its complete support. All in all everything is set for peace to prevail, even though the situation remains far from calm.

Those who predict the crisis in Macedonia will end soon are few and far between, but there are several reasons to be optimistic. The resumption of political dialogue, the increased readiness of key political players to seek compromise solutions and the prospect of Albanian disarmament, are all indications the conflict is entering its final phase.

In recent days, senior Macedonian officials and foreign diplomats have consistently told the media that there's a new willingness to end the war. They have called on the press to tone down its reporting - especially the daily "bombardments" directed at the government's handling of the situation - in order to create an atmosphere more conducive to peace.

For days, well-informed journalists were reporting that foreign diplomats and senior state officials had drawn up a plan for the disarmament of Albanian fighters, similar to the controversial agreement mediated by the United States diplomat Robert Frowick.

A senior NATO official then confirmed the alliance would back such an operation. Government spokesman Antonio Milososki said it would be discussed once political dialogue was underway. President Trajkovski's advisors added that he had had such a plan in mind for some time and the time had now come for it to be made public.

According to the proposal, Albanian fighters from Kosovo would be offered a chance to lay down their weapons and return to the province. Local National Liberation Army, NLA, members would be granted an amnesty, provided they were not suspected of war crimes.

The disarmament operation is expected to be carried out under the auspices of NATO and the Macedonian authorities. The OSCE and the International Red Cross would act as political observers and oversee humanitarian aspects of the operation respectively.

Albanian political leaders, meanwhile, would have the task of calling on NLA fighters to lay down their weapons. Macedonian security forces would cease fire but remain in position.

Politically acceptable solutions on outstanding issues could soon be found, as long as there were no new challenges akin to the platform signed by Albanian political leaders and NLA representative Ali Ahmeti the other week.

Ahead of the EU summit in Gothenburg on June 15, Skopje will probably offer some gestures of goodwill to improve chances of political dialogue. The Max van der Stoel Albanian-language university in Tetovo will probably get a final approval and Macedonian national TV's "third channel" is likely to be handed over to ethnic minority groups.

There are reasons to believe political leaders are also prepared to reach agreement on other important matters, such as changing the preamble to the constitution.

The two main Macedonian parties, VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM, appear to hold similar views to the international community on this issue - that the preamble can be amended to define the republic as a state of all the citizens living within it, rather than as a state of Macedonians. Such a change would be in keeping with the main body of the constitution.

Although signs that the security crisis could be overcome are encouraging, there is a need to remain cautious. There are still many dangerous twists and turns along the road. The VMRO-DPMNE should temper its warlike language. Government forces must avoid civilian casualties, even if provoked. Any action which causes civilian suffering will only add to the likelihood of violence continuing.

Extremists on both sides still pose a threat. A few days ago, a few academics in Skopje, probably backed by the parliamentary speaker Stojan Andov, put forward an insane idea calling for an exchange of people and territory between Macedonia and Albania as the only permanent solution to the crisis.

Observers hope, however, that such provocations, from whichever side, are not going to threaten the internationally-backed peace process. The war has already been too costly to all sides - the NLA has been defeated having failed to secure territory or a seat at the negotiating table and the Macedonian authorities have come to realise they cannot cope economically, psychologically or militarily with a prolonged crisis.

Branko Geroski is editor-in-chief of Skopje daily Dnevnik

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