- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2001

Macedonia is an impoverished landlocked Balkan country with a population of little more than 2 million cradled by Serbia and Kosovo to the north, Bulgaria to the east, Greece to the South and Albania to the west.

Historically, it has been a charnel house. It was here that Alexander the Great set out to conquer the known world, and where Spartacus began his slave revolt.

Here, the ethnic hatreds unleashed by the decline of the Turkish empire first erupted into Macedonian guerrilla warfare against the Turks.

Despite a cease-fire just brokered by a team of NATO and U.S. diplomats after six months of fighting, violence continues between Macedonia's Slavic majority and Albanian minority. (NATO fears that continued fighting could engage Albania and Bulgaria and conceivably bring in Greece and Turkey, who are NATO members, unleashing a new Balkans conflagration.) I visited Macedonia last April as part of a NATO fact-finding mission sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Since then, the escalating armed conflict between forces of the weak Macedonian government and the so-called National Liberation Army, consisting of ethnic Albanian guerrillas armed largely by their ethnic allies in neighboring Kosovo, has caused the eviction from their homes of 150,000 persons or roughly 7 percent of the population.

The record of NATO-brokered cease-fires, in Macedonia is less than impressive. "For the first time," since the first cease-fire of July 5, according to a report just released by the International Crisis Group, the leading NGO in area, "ethnic Macedonian civilians were fighting NLA rebels, ethnic Albanian civilians opened fire on ethnic Macedonian police, and there were credible reports that Albanian and Macedonian citizens fought in the streets of Tetovo, Lesok and Neprosento."

The Macedonians are mobilizing. The Interior Ministry has called up some 15,000 army reservists as a "precaution." Paramilitary training camps have sprung up in and around the capital city of Skopje. A group calling itself "Paramilitary 2001" warned all Albanians to leave the capital and has threatened violence against Macedonians doing business with Albanians.

The unexplained disappearances of some 40 Albanian business leaders, journalists and intellectuals has caused Albanians in Skopje to move from ethnically mixed neighborhoods to the safety offered by largely Albanian cities and villages. The scenario is vintage Balkans. Both warring groups both seem determined to stimulate population shifts in order to establish "ethnically pure" areas.

In brokering the July 5 cease-fire, the NATO-U.S. negotiating team proposed a "framework document." The bones of the settlement, crafted by the former French Defense Minister Francois Leotard and President Bush's special envoy James Pardew, are cessation of hostilities, territorial integrity for Macedonia, representation of ethnic Albanians in the executive and judicial branches, local police autonomy and official use of the Albanian language both in parliament and in cities having more than 20 percent Albanian population.

But while the two sides were negotiating variations of these proposals, their respective armies resupplied, reinforced and redeployed. In the period July 22-24, the NLA, claiming Macedonian "provocations," broke the truce and launched attacks on Tetovo and neighboring villages, causing an additional 20,000 persons to flee their homes. On July 24, NATO envoys convinced the NLA to agree to a new cease-fire and to withdraw their troops from Tetovo. On July 26, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson and former NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana flew to Skopye to get the political negotiations back on track.

A fragile peace? To be sure. Even NATO spins the present accord as a "potential for peace" rather than peace itself. Plainly, neither side has any appetite for the "civic" solution offered by the international community, featuring guaranteed minority and human rights and a multi-ethnic state. The fear and suspicion engendered by centuries of hatred across the Balkan Peninsula is not easily eradicated with the stroke of a pen.

The clear objective of the international community is to stabilize Macedonia, provided that stabilization can be achieved at moderate cost. President Bush elaborated this strategy last month on his visit to Kosovo when he seemed, after reflection, to back a "let's wait and see" attitude toward the region. Most analysts on the ground agree this will require a "carrot and stick" approach combining a more significant military commitment by NATO and the U.S. to ensure security, a package of economic aid and robust diplomatic pressure.

No one can reasonably expect the NLA guerrillas to disarm without a formidable NATO-U.S. security force in place to protect the Albanians from the Macedonian paramilitaries. This means NATO troops on the ground for the long term. But NATO has balked at sending 3,500 promised troops headed by the British military unless the cease-fire holds, there is an agreement to disarm under NATO supervision and a promise of amnesty for the NLA guerrillas. The warring parties claim that they have fulfilled these conditions, and at this writing NATO has decided to send in 400 British troops which some diplomats insist was a "down payment" on the larger deployment.

Europe has been historically risk-averse in the Balkans. In an 1878 speech in the House of Lords, the ever prescient Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said, "Nothing short of an army of 50,000 of Europe's best troops will produce anything like order in those parts." And about the same time in Germany, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck warned that, "The whole of the Balkans is not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian musketeer." Very little has changed in Western strategic thinking in the last 100 years.

James D. Zirin, a lawyer, is a partner in the New York office of Sidley Austin Brown & Wood LLP.


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