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

Macedonia: Peace Process Breakthrough

Fearing renewed hostilities international mediators have rushed to shore up the Macedonian peace process.
By Vladimir Jovanovski

The death of three Macedonian policemen during the arrest of suspected Albanian terrorists last Sunday may have paradoxically speeded up attempts to bring peace to the country.


Initially the killing of the policemen in an ambush on November 11 threatened to derail painstaking international efforts on healing the conflict that raged for much of this year between the country's Macedonian majority and Albanian minority.


So alarmed were international mediators that they rushed in to persuade a key political party to withdraw its objections to proposed constitutional changes regarded as essential for lasting stability.


As a result, the revisions were accepted on Thursday night, November 15, two days sooner than previously scheduled.


The incident was provoked by a new Macedonian police unit known as "Lions" and operating under the orders of the strongly nationalist interior minister Ljube Boskovski.


On the pretext of searching for the location of a mass grave, about 100 men and women members of the unit moved into territory controlled by Albanians along the Tetovo- Kosovo road.


There they arrested seven Albanians whom they accused of belonging to the National Liberation army, NLA, movement, claiming they were guilty of massacres, terror and ethnic cleansing.


President Boris Trajkovski's cabinet later distanced itself from this


arrest. They conceded it had violated the amnesty proclaimed personally by the head of state after the Ohrid peace accord was signed on August 13 and reaffirmed at the beginning of October.


Albanians retaliated by kidnapping about 40 Macedonian civilians from the Tetovo area, holding them as hostages for the detained NLA suspects. Among them was the owner of the KISS local TV station in Tetovo, Zlate Todorovski, and his son.


Todorovski said afterwards, "The kidnappers' attitude towards us was correct but they warned us that if any of the arrested Albanians were killed we would all be liquidated."


That evening a motorised convoy of "Lions" ran into an ambush staged by armed Albanians near the village of Trebos. In the hail of fire, three policemen died and another three were wounded, one of them seriously.


Just who carried out the attack is not clear. The leader of the NLA, Ali Ahmeti, announced on September 27 that his paramilitary group had been disbanded. Two days later, NATO announced that they had finished their mission to disarm NLA members. However, in Sunday's attack bazookas were used as well as infantry weapons.


A previously unknown terrorist group, the Albanian National Army, ANA, claimed responsibility for the ambush. However, there was some doubt this organisation even exists. The predominant view is that the attack was mounted by members of the former NLA who kept some of their weapons "just in case".


The Macedonian media and numerous political parties laid blame for the incident on Boskovski who belongs to the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE. "He sent those policemen to certain a death," said Pavle Trajanov, a former interior minister and now leader of the Democratic Alliance Party.


The NATO Ambassador Claus Vollers said the tragedy could have been avoided if such hasty action had not been taken. "Our attitude was that we could have helped if the matter had been conducted in a normal way," he said. "But it was done in a Macedonian way." Next day the policemen withdrew from the area and the kidnapped civilians were freed through mediation by NATO officials. The arrested Albanians are still being held


in prison in Idrizovo.


The incident came at a delicate moment in the process of changing the Macedonian constitution. Proposed amendments had been stuck for some time because of disputes related to the text of the constitutional preamble.


The last obstacle was a demand by the Albanians' Party for Democratic Prosperity, PDP, to have a distinction in the preamble between the Albanians and the other minorities in Macedonia.


Fearing the Trebos incident could destroy the whole agreement, international mediators rushed into urgent consultations with the PDP leadership. Their efforts brought results. One day after the incident, the special EU representative in Skopje Alain Le Roy stated, "In the interest of


de-blocking the peace agreement, the PDP will vote for all proposed amendments."


A parliamentary majority of 90 subsequently voted for the constitutional changes.


In recent months, there have been growing demands for the hawkish Boskovski to resign. The irony was that the impetuousness of this fierce opponent of the Macedonia peace process might have accelerated the constitutional changes he so opposed.


Vladimir Jovanovski is a journalist with the Skopje magazine Forum.