- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

NATO chief Lord Robertson warned that Macedonia was on the brink of civil war this week after talks between Macedonian President Boris Trakovski and the countrys multi-ethnic coalition government of Slavs and ethnic Albanians broke down Wednesday. NATO is preparing to send 3,000 troops to help disarm the Albanian rebels, but only if the coalition is able to first put together a deal on the terms of disarmament. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said it could make 700 troops already in Macedonia available at some point, but the administration is still hoping a political solution will be possible. NATO and the United States are right to be hesitant to get involved in a war where the terms of peace are elusive both to government leaders as well as to the guerrillas themselves.
The rebels would have their big brothers in America the same heroes who led the NATO mission against their enemies, the Serbs believe that the violence they are now perpetrating in Macedonia is merely about protecting minority rights. But the National Liberation Army (NLA), a splinter of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), also has another motive: It is fighting to keep control over the regions drug trafficking, which has grown into a large, lucrative enterprise since the Kosovo war. In addition to drug money, the NLA also has another prominent venture capitalist: Osama bin Laden.
The Muslim terrorist leader, according to a document obtained by The Washington Times and written by the chief commander of the Macedonian Security Forces, puts out the front money for the rebel group through a representative in Macedonia: "This person is representative of Osama Ben laden , who is the main financial supporter of the National Liberation Army, where up to date he has paid $6 to $7 million for the needs of the National Liberation Army."
Kosovos former armed militants from the KLA traffic the drugs through the corridor and into Western Europe at great profit. Right now, pesky border controls are making their criminal activities a little bit difficult. Not so, however, if they had a "Greater Albania," which would annex land from Macedonia and facilitate the flow of drugs. At the same time, the rebels are working hard to weaken border controls.
"Weve tracked where the rebels have requested to install their people. It forms a clear pattern along this corridor" between Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece, Macedonian National Security Adviser Stoyan Bakalov said in an interview.
Thats not to say that all ethnic Albanians seeking independence are connected with the drug trade. Many are peace-loving people who merely want a home away from the wars that have torn their country or province apart in the past decade. But even these people are being unjustly used by the rebels, who have taken up arms not just for the right of a homeland, but for the right to continue profiting from drugs. As a case in point, in Macedonia, where the rebels have caused 42,000 people to become refugees recently (including 22,000 since June 9), the rebels are asking for more minority rights. Of the 18 ministers in the Macedonian Cabinet, six are ethnic Albanian. Of 123 mayors, 26 are Albanian. Thats in a country where they make up 27 percent of the population.
There is still much that can be done to protect ethnic Albanians from violence in both Kosovo and Macedonia. But there will be no peace for NATO to defend until the rebels, who are hurting their own people, decide they will struggle for independence without violence and without the support of terrorists. Likewise, a defensible peace will require the Macedonian and Serb governments to ensure the rights of ethnic Albanians are defended. NATO and the United States must know their mission before they step into this civil war.

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