Macedonia: UN Defuses Border Dispute

Macedonians relieved at UN intervention in border dispute with Kosovo peacekeepers.

Macedonia: UN Defuses Border Dispute

Macedonians relieved at UN intervention in border dispute with Kosovo peacekeepers.

The United Nations has acted swiftly to defuse a row over the Macedonian frontier, which brought passions between the Skopje government and peacekeepers in neighbouring Kosovo to boiling point.

The rumpus began when Keith Huber, a US general in charge of peacekeepers in Kosovo, said the recent border deal signed between Macedonia and Yugoslavia - which nominally still rules Kosovo - was illegal.

On February 21, the UN issued a statement reaffirming its support for Macedonia's frontiers and territorial integrity. In it, the UN said the recent demarcation agreement must be respected.

Huber, commander of a Gnjilane-based KFOR brigade in the east of Kosovo, had said the deal ignored the Security Council's Resolution 1244, passed in June 1999, which defined Kosovo's territory for the purposes of international peacekeeping.

He added that the agreement jeopardised the rights of Kosovo farmers near the border zone, who might lose easy access to their farmland. The Skopje-based Albanian language daily Fakti reported Huber as saying he would "send his troops to protect the farmers" if necessary.

The statement revived in full Macedonia's anxieties over the border with Yugoslavia, and especially with Kosovo.

The Macedonian majority interpreted last year's uprising in the western half of the country as an attempt to effectively unite western Macedonia with Kosovo. They saw Huber's recent remark as giving a green light to Albanian separatists to start a spring offensive and renew their attempts to divide the country.

For several years after Macedonia declared independence in 1991, the border issue with Serbia remained unresolved, owing to the deliberate obstruction of Slobodan Milosevic. The open frontier encouraged ethnic Albanians in Serb-run Kosovo and western Macedonia to feel they lived in one state.

This all changed after the Milosevic regime collapsed in October 2000, and Belgrade and Skopje acted to solve the dispute.

A Border Demarcation Agreement was signed on February 23, 2001 in Skopje, in the presence of Macedonia's president Boris Trajkovski and his Yugoslav counterpart Vojislav Kostunica.

The deal garnered international plaudits. It was welcomed by participants at the Skopje summit of the South-East Europe Cooperation Process - a major regional initiative - attended by NATO secretary-general George Robertson and the EU commissioner for foreign relations, Chris Patten.

The UN Security Council and EU presidency also praised what seemed a positive attempt to consolidate peace, stability and cooperation in the region.

Defending the deal this week, Macedonia's foreign ministry said it fully complied with the United Nations Charter. And President Trajkovski said the agreement was "an internationally-recognised valid document and was welcomed by the international community".

At a meeting in Brussels with Daniel Spechard, NATO's assistant secretary-general for political affairs, Tihomir Ilievski, from the Macedonian foreign ministry, and Nano Ruzin, Macedonian ambassador to the alliance, filed a protest against Huber's statement.

The UN move will go some way to soothing Macedonians, whose media had re-awakened fears that NATO and KFOR were turning a bind eye to the activities of Albanian paramilitaries on either side of the border.

Washington has also tried to calm the waters by re-stating its support for Macedonia. Richard Baucher, US State Department spokesman, said America's long-term policy was to support the territorial integrity of all countries in the region, including Macedonia.

Saso Ordanoski is IWPR project editor in Skopje and editor-in-chief of Forum magazine. Svetlana Jovanovska is the Brussels correspondent for Skopje's daily Dnevnik

Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo
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