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Macedonia Pleased With US Deal

Security fears prompt Macedonia to sign non-extradition pact with US.
By Borjan Jovanovski

Macedonian officials say they signed up to an accord exempting US citizens from extradition for war crimes because they remain worried about their country's fragile security and cannot do without the Americans.


They are also claiming a diplomatic victory because they agreement uses the name they prefer their country to be known by - Macedonia.


After months of US pressure, on June 30, officials signed an agreement not to send Americans to the International Criminal Court, ICC. The agreement opens the way to further US military assistance for the country.


The United States opposes the ICC, the first permanent international court for war crimes, which it fears could become a forum for politically-motivated prosecutions of US citizens. The US has embarked on a worldwide campaign to sign immunity deals and has suspended military assistance to 35 countries which declined to sign. The European Union, EU, opposes the US position.


Fears of losing US military assistance and possibility of further violence prompted Macedonia to sign. Since the internationally-brokered resolution of an ethnic conflict that erupted in 2001, pitting the Macedonian majority against the ethnic Albanian minority, the Balkan state has been relatively stable.


But numerous incidents still stir ethnic tensions, mainly involving Albanian militants who complain of the slow implementation of the Ohrid peace deal.


Parliamentary speaker Nikola Popovski said the situation must be deemed unstable as long as bombs go off almost weekly.


"The signing of the bilateral agreement with the US is not a bad move because in political, security and military terms we are more dependent on the US than the EU," he said.


The government fears that the unresolved status of the neighbouring province of Kosovo could also trigger renewed violence.


An additional motive for the government was US support for the Adriatic Charter, a joint plan put forward by Macedonia, Albania and Croatia to enter NATO by 2006.


"Macedonia needs US support in the event of a possible future crisis," former foreign minister Denko Malevski said. "They are giving us strong support to join NATO, so that with their help we may join one of the two main Western structures.


"Macedonia cannot count on entering the EU before resolving its security issues. We have to be pragmatic and think of our defence needs," he said.


Besides gaining pledges of military assistance, Macedonia extracted a symbolically important concession over the use of its name. During talks on the ICC, the government pressed the US to sign the agreement under its chosen name, the Republic of Macedonia, which neighbouring Greece disputes.


Athens insists that the name Macedonia - which it claims for historical reasons - must apply exclusively to its own northern province. Greek diplomatic pressure means that international documents have referred to the country by the unwieldy title of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM, since it became independent of Yugoslavia in 1991. Negotiations between the two countries on the name dispute are continuing under UN auspices.


However, the agreement with the US refers simply to "Macedonia", making it the first formal bilateral agreement not to employ the detested FYROM.


For Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, this concession alone justified the deal. "Although it is not a definitive solution of this dispute, it presents a significant breakthrough on this sensitive issue," he said.


Athens was correspondingly outraged, and its foreign ministry has demanded an explanation from Washington.


Not all Macedonians are persuaded of the value of the deal. Jovan Donev, of the Evro Bakan Institute think-tank, said signing the agreement was inevitable given America's overwhelming dominance of world affairs.


"The EU is not yet consolidated, politically or militarily, and that is why we have to stand by the only superpower - and that's the US," he said.


He cautioned that the use of the term Macedonia was "no guarantee that the dispute will end with Macedonia finally getting its constitutional name recognised".


Washington also dampened expectations of a breakthrough on the name dispute, insisting that use of the word Macedonia was "informal and does not reflect a change in US policy".


Denko Malevski, an international law professor and former foreign minister, said he doubted that the US use of the name heralded an end to this decade-long dispute. "I see it as just a decoy by politicians to justify an unpopular deal," he said.


Some Macedonian analysts have criticised their government's support for an agreement that many see as contrary to international law, and that could distance the country from its goal of European Union membership. They want the EU to be recognised as the primary strategic interest.


Publicly, the EU has expressed regret over the deal, but it does not have a policy of imposing sanctions on non-member states. It has said that no retaliatory measures will be taken against Macedonia, which hosts some 400 troops from the EU Rapid Reaction Force which replaced NATO peacekeepers.


Although some member states were privately annoyed, diplomats say it is unlikely to have long-term consequences for Macedonia`s EU aspirations.


Borjan Jovanovski is a journalist with Voice of America radio.


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