Skopje Politicians Sober Up

Macedonian politicians have began to realise that there is no military solution to the crisis.

Skopje Politicians Sober Up

Macedonian politicians have began to realise that there is no military solution to the crisis.

Thousands of infuriated Macedonians rallied in Skopje last week to vent their fury at the government's agreement to allow ethnic Albanian rebels to withdraw from the village of Aracinovo which they had been holding for about two weeks. Armed reservists joined the protesters, who stormed parliament, guns blazing, to demand the resignation of President Boris Trajkovski.

There were a handful of skirmishes and attacks on foreign journalists, but the main casualty of the protest was the armoured Mercedes of interior minister Ljube Boskovski. Surrounded by an enraged crowd, the car was completely destroyed. Some stripped it of its fairings, others climbed on top to offer their "words of wisdom".

Standing out amongst the latter was Mitko Milosevski, a dentist from Skopje. "The government betrayed us," he shouted. "Instead of annihilating the terrorists, they let them withdraw on board air-conditioned NATO buses. What happened in Aracinovo is a national shame and more proof of collaboration between our leaders and Albanian extremists. For that reason this government deserves to be toppled."

A day later, people began to sober up when the prime minister, Ljubco Georgievski, shed more light on why the authorities allowed the NLA to withdraw from Aracinovo.

Georgievski said the government had accepted a proposal by the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, for a ceasefire to allow the "terrorists" to withdraw. And then he explained why. The premier said the military initially estimated that the village could be seized within 24 hours. But after facing stiff resistance from Albanian fighters, army chiefs revised their thinking, calculating the operation would take at least ten days and could incur substantial losses. This seems to have awakened Macedonia from its stupor. Politicians began to realise that there is no military solution to the crisis and that it is high time to return to dialogue.

In his address to the nation, President Boris Trajkovski said, "Citizens, the mandate that you have entrusted me with is not to lead wars and for that reason I will do my best to restore peace and tranquillity in our homes."

A similar reality is sinking in on the Albanian side, too. Officials from the two main ethnic Albanian parties participating in the country's national unity government, the Party for Democratic Prosperity, PDP, and the Democratic Party of the Albanians, DPA, have urged political dialogue to end the insurgency.

Former PDP secretary Mithat Emini told the weekly Aktuel, "In this conflict neither the [rebel] National Liberation Army nor the Macedonian army can win." Whereas the influential DPA leader, Arben Xhaferi, has, for some time now, spoken against the logic of war and the benefits of peace talks.

Between the two camps are Macedonia's ordinary citizens. More than 100,000 have been forced to flee their hearths, and many of those who remain fear they will be uprooted by the fighting.

Hence, Macedonian parties' willingness to agree to mediation. Several diplomatic initiatives are currently underway.

One is led by French constitutional lawyer, Robert Badinter - the man who, back in 1991, set out the conditions former Yugoslav republics would have to fulfil to acquire EU recognition. Another is headed by newly appointed EU resident representative in Macedonia, the former French defence minister, Francois Leotard.

But the initiative most likely to have any kind of any impact is being pursued by the American envoy James Pardew, who is expected to press both sides to engage in more meaningful dialogue. He is thought to oppose NLA involvement in negotiations.

Another round of peace talks is due to begin in Skopje in the next few days. And one of the big unknowns is whether the Albanian rebels will be included. If the rebels reject a peace settlement, the international community is bound to blame them.

Washington has already blocked NLA fundraising efforts and barred its leaders from travelling to the US. International involvement and a Western strategy - assuming there is one - will be the key to ending the five-month-old conflict in Macedonia.

The West owes this Balkan country. After all, there is truth in the government's assertion that the conflict was a product of the international community's failure to prevent the Kosovo conflict spilling over into Macedonia.

NATO has already said it can send 3,000 troops to help disarm the rebels in the event of a peace deal. By doing so the alliance will help consolidate peace and prevent a much-dreaded civil war. But the deployment of alliance troops also risks sanctioning ethnic division and separation.

Vladimir Jovanovski works for the Skopje Magazine Forum.

Macedonia, Kosovo
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