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Skopje to Call for UN Presence

The Macedonian authorities are likely to call for UN troops to replace NATO forces when their mandate runs out.
By Borjan Jovanovski

The Skopje authorities are this week expected to agree to some form of foreign military presence in the country after NATO's mission to collect weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels expires at the end of the month.


The authorities are refusing to bow to international demands for an extension of the alliance mandate, as they fear it could lead to the partition of Macedonia along ethnic lines or the creation of a de facto Western protectorate in the country.


"If NATO stays," a senior interior ministry official told IWPR, "the country will become a second Cyprus. The only solution then would be the federalisation - if not confederation - of Macedonia, which is exactly what the Albanians have wanted from the beginning."


Well-informed observers believe that the authorities will agree to a compromise on the subject, in all probability allowing some form of UN force to take over from NATO troops.


Speaking after the latest meeting of the National Security Council, President Trajkovski told Macedonian radio that NATO will withdraw its forces on September 26 as planned, when Operation Essential Harvest is due to end .


Trajkovski said that Macedonian army and police would then seek to regain control of districts occupied by the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army, NLA, under the supervision of OSCE and the EU monitors.


Political and military chiefs last week drafted a phased plan that they hope will allow for the return of government security forces to NLA-occupied regions. "The first phase concerns the return of displaced people and the security forces to villages with a purely ethnic Macedonian population, such as Lesok and other villages in the Tetovo area," an official in the president's office told IWPR.


In a second phase, aimed at regaining control of ethnically-mixed districts, Macedonian soldiers will enter villages at the head of a force comprising international monitors and police units that include Albanian officers, who are currently being trained for the purpose. The provision of more jobs in the police force for ethnic Albanians has been a key NLA demand since fighting erupted in February.


After the police have demonstrated their competence in the first two operations, they will then attempt to regain control of villages with a purely ethnic Albanian population, in a third and final phase of the plan.


But both the EU and NATO warned Skopje over the weekend that peace could only be guaranteed by a NATO presence after Operation Essential Harvest ends. An EU official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Brussels has severe reservations about the motives of controversial interior minister Ljube Boskovski, a member of the strongly nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, whose name has been linked to the recruitment of ethnic Macedonian paramilitaries.


Boskovski is also doing all in his power to slow down the integration of ethnic Albanians into the police force, other sources say.


Neither the OSCE nor NATO will agree to deploy monitors - as Skopje wants - without the protection of NATO troops, the EU source told IWPR. "In our experience, there have been cases when our monitors have been fired on," he said, adding that the Macedonian police have not yet proved themselves to be trustworthy in areas with a majority ethnic Albanian population.


The issue for NATO is whether to apply to the UN for an extension of its mandate, while inviting a Russian contingent to join it as a way of mollifying Skopje, or to go on without one. These decisions are too likely to be clarified this week. One thing is certain, however. The EU and NATO must persuade Skopje that Macedonian security forces are incapable of enforcing the peace without outside help after September 26.


If Macedonia insists on the withdrawal of NATO forces, and the EU and OSCE refuse to send monitoring missions, the three-phased plan to regain control of rebel-held areas may have to be put on hold. Economic aid to the country may also be jeopardised. Donors due to meet in Brussels on October 15 to discuss Macedonia's debt may be put off. The EU and the US are both delaying disbursement of 170 million US dollars in agreed aid.


Faced with such pressure, Macedonian politicians will spend this week in intensive debate over how to proceed. The Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia, the second largest Macedonian party, which last week backed President Trajkovski's insistence that NATO forces must leave, is beginning to waver on the subject. Some members now take the line that alliance forces must be allowed to remain under a UN mandate, as do all of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian parties.


But the hard-line VMRO-DPMNE, led by Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, is sticking to its guns. "If NATO stays in Macedonia, it would establish a false and artificial peace," party spokesman Gorgi Trendafilov told IWPR. "VMRO-DPMNE is disappointed by some NATO and EU member countries, which say that the Framework Document is a blueprint for peace and then go further by demanding a foreign military presence in Macedonia."


VMRO-DPMNE, he said, could only approve a UN mission along the same lines as UNPREDEP, the UN mission sent 1995 to Macedonia in order to monitor the borders with Yugoslavia and Albania. The mission stayed until 1999 when their mandate ended. Most Macedonians believed that UNPREDEP was neutral and successful. Although the soldiers were not authorised to use weapons, the borders could not be crossed unnoticed.


Given the international pressure on Macedonia to agree to the extension of the NATO mandate, the country's leaders cannot afford to reject a continued foreign military presence out of hand, and will, in the end, probably opt for some form of UN deployment.


Borjan Jovanovski is the VOA correspondent in Skopje


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