Macedonia: Former Rebels Become Ministers

Ex-Albanian guerrillas get cabinet posts to the fury of Macedonian nationalists.

Macedonia: Former Rebels Become Ministers

Ex-Albanian guerrillas get cabinet posts to the fury of Macedonian nationalists.

Tuesday, 29 October, 2002

Macedonia's new government will take the unprecedented step of including posts for former rebels involved in the ethnic Albanian uprising, which brought the country to the brink of civil war last year.

The development follows the September 15 election in which the moderate Social Democrats, SDSM, became the largest ethnic Macedonian party in parliament and opted to link up with the biggest Albanian political force, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI.

The DUI sprang from the now disbanded National Liberation Army, NLA, which launched an armed conflict against government forces in February 2001 to demand improved civil rights for Albanians.

The conflict ended six months later with the western-sponsored Ohrid agreement, which promised improved rights in exchange for the NLA handing over a portion of their weapons. When an amnesty for the rebels was proclaimed early this year, they formed the DUI and moved into mainstream politics. They won 16 of the 120 seats in parliament in the September poll.

Branko Crvenkovski, prime minister-designate and leader of the SDSM, has offered the DUI four ministerial posts - education, justice, health and transportation - and one vice-premiership. The Social Democrats insisted that no commanders directly involved in last year's fighting could be included in government. Parliament will vote on the new administration on October 31.

The coalition enraged Macedonian nationalists, especially the VMRO which was swept from power in the election. "It's disgraceful," said party spokesman Vlatko Gorcev. "This government list reflects a military, legal and spiritual capitulation for Macedonia."

Sections of Albanian opinion also expressed some scepticism. Lirim Dullovi, deputy editor-in- chief of the influential Albanian language newspaper Fakti, commented, " We have to see whether the DUI will be a relevant factor or become marginalised like previous Albanian parties in government."

But most moderate Macedonians and Albanians believe the arrangement represents real progress. "We have to accept reality because otherwise we get lost in the past," Saso Colakovski, senior editor at the daily Utrinski vesnik told IWPR. "This government is a bit

controversial but it presents a compromise between the Macedonian and the Albanian blocs."

The new alliance has already been nicknamed "The Guns and Roses" government - a reference to the DUI`s rebel background and SDSM`s logo featuring a red rose.

Of the Albanian inclusions in the government, sections of the Macedonian press were particularly scathing of the appointment of Rexhep Suleimani's as health minister and Musa Xhaferi as vice-premier. The former headed the rebel's improvised hospital in the Kumanovo area during the conflict and the latter doesn't speak Macedonian and is a citizen of Albania.

Apart from the Albanians, the rest of the 14 government ministries were divided among the SDSM and their other partner the Liberal Democratic Party, LDP. The former took the interior, foreign and defence portfolios; the latter finance, labour and agriculture.

The biggest surprise was Crvenkovski's decision to appoint an ethnic Vlach, Hari Kostov, a banker, as interior minister. Analysts say the choice was related to plans to investigate corruption in Ljupco Georgievski's former nationalist government. Kostov was among the few who stayed loyal to Crvenkovski after the SDSM lost power in 1998. He was often targeted by tax and financial officials from the outgoing administration with whom he was involved in several public disputes.

Diplomats say Kostov has a difficult task ahead of him because the interior ministry is in need of root and branch reform. "The ministry must be restructured to conform to normal European standards. Kostov will have to start by reforming the police, disbanding the 'Lions' paramilitary unit and resolve delicate border issues," said one envoy.

Under the hawkish former interior minister, Ljube Boskovski, the police were transformed into the paramilitary arm of VMRO and were heavily criticised by the international community as unprofessional and a threat to stability.

Crvenkovski said recently that "restoring peace and stability and reviving the economy will be the main priorities for the new government". He also promised to fight against corruption; and promote Euro-Atlantic integration and the full implementation of the reforms promised in the Ohrid peace accord.

Katerina Blazevska, senior editor of the daily Dnevnik, told the independent Forum magazine, "I hope those ministers won't end up sitting around as bureaucrats. They must work hard to push Macedonia's political and economic clocks forward into the 21st century."

Ana Petruseva is a journalist with the magazine Forum in Skopje.

Macedonia, Albania
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