- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2001

President Bush's visit to Kosovo last week was a timely reminder of the high degree of involvement and commitment by the international community in the Western Balkans.

It also begged the question when governments in the region will be ready to govern themselves without outside help. It is clear from Bosnia, Kosovo and now Macedonia that if the international community were not deeply engaged in peacekeeping, mediation, and the rebuilding of societies and infrastructures, the clash between the forces of disintegration vs. integration would by now have spiraled out of control.

It is painfully clear to me, as a Southeast European and as a citizen of a country that knows from experience the handicap of self-imposed isolation, that without the direct involvement and assistance of the EU, NATO, United Nations, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Macedonia and other parts of the Western Balkans would eventually fall into a deep abyss of chaos, lawlessness and violence.

As current chairman-in-office of the OSCE, I have just been in Skopje with Javier Solana and George Robertson. I am convinced that if the international community were not actively engaged in Macedonia, we would now be witnessing yet another civil war in the Balkans. As it is, even with the restraining influence of the EU, the U.S. and the OSCE, even with NATO's offer to disarm the armed Albanian groups once a political agreement is in place, the present situation is extremely dangerous. The cease-fire came close to collapse a few days ago. EU monitors are among the latest casualties.

International negotiators who have dedicated time, energy and effort to helping the search for compromise precisely so that fighting does not break out again have been criticized in unhelpful terms.

It is essential to restart the political dialogue and restore a durable cease-fire. [So I am particularly pleased that the political parties agreed to meet in Tetovo.] We are close. There is agreement on 95 percent of the issues under discussion. The remaining differences are not insurmountable.

We ask for one extra effort now to resolve them.

Macedonia is at a critical juncture right now. Let us be clear on one thing: If full-scale fighting breaks out again, there will be no winners, only losers, many hundreds of them, and not only inside Macedonia but elsewhere in the region too. The perspective of European integration, generously offered by the EU to the Western Balkans, would be nothing more than a distant Utopia.

The offers of help and support from the EU and NATO show how important Macedonia is to the West. OSCE pledges of assistance, through its monitoring Mission and through the longstanding involvement of its high commissioner on national minorities, show how important Macedonia is to the whole of Europe, west and east. Blaming the international community, attacking Western Embassies, setting fire to OSCE or EU vehicles may serve a purpose domestically. But those responsible for instigating such acts should not deceive themselves that this kind of reaction will restore stability to their country or help their case for closer European integration.

I have tremendous respect for Javier Solana, George Robertson and their tireless negotiators, as well as for Max van der Stoel's valuable work on integrating ethnic minorities. Their efforts deserve praise, not condemnation.

But agreement on the political way forward and completing the disarmament process are only the beginning of the journey to restoring stability and peace to Macedonia.

On one side, there is understandable concern that extremists whose preferred option up to now has been violence will regroup and rearm as soon as NATO forces have left. On the other, there is concern, equally understandable, that promises to improve the situation of the ethnic Albanian community will not be fully respected. There is a long way to go before the confidence of all sectors of the population is restored and the destructive division of society is reversed.

This is where the OSCE's unique expertise and skills come into their own. The OSCE has border monitors in-country who will be helping people return safely to their villages and who will be watching out for signs of new military buildup. It has experts who will be involved in developing police forces which reflect the ethnic make-up of local populations. It will be offering guidance and advice, based on years of experience in Bosnia and Kosovo, on longer-term measures which will restore public confidence and build a genuinely multiethnic society: decentralization, equal educational opportunities, a public administration which represents all ethnic communities.

The OSCE will be in Macedonia long after NATO's 30 days or so are up to help the government and people alike to heal the scars of the past months and build a brighter future.

No one wants to see more bloodshed in the Balkans. We have already seen too much. I urge all the parties concerned to seize the opportunity offered by the international community, to call in the assistance we have pledged and to take the first step on the road to responsible and effective self-government. It would be tragic and irresponsible to let this chance for peace slip away. It may be the last one.

Mircea Dan Geoana is the Romanian minister of foreign affairs and chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

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