- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2001

From combined dispatches

SKOPJE, Macedonia — A Western peace plan for Macedonia would grant significant new rights to the Balkan nation's ethnic Albanian minority, according to details of the proposal described in a report on state-run television yesterday.
The plan delivered by U.S. and European Union envoys earlier in the week is meant to avert civil war, end an insurgency by ethnic Albanian extremists and restore stability in the divided country.
It calls for changes in Macedonia's constitution, laws, local governments, police, military and media to promote a fair balance of rights and responsibilities between majority Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, the TV report said.
U.S. envoy James Pardew and his EU colleague Francois Leotard were not immediately available to comment on the TV report, but its description of the peace plan echoed suggestions foreign officials have made publicly about how the conflict should be defused.
The plan calls for cessation of all hostilities and preservation of Macedonia's territorial integrity. According to the report, it envisions amending the country's constitution to purge language defining Macedonians as the country's "constituent" people.
The report said that the plan grants certain privileges to any minority group that accounts for more than 20 percent of the population — in other words, to ethnic Albanians, who make up nearly one-third of Macedonia's population of 2 million.
Ethnic Albanians would be guaranteed proportional representation in the Constitutional Court, which has a final say in legislative matters, as well as in the police, army and local government. Those governments would have broader authority, meaning a degree of self-rule for largely ethnic Albanian areas.
To pass a law in parliament, half of the lawmakers voting would have to come from at least one minority group.
In addition to state-funded primary and secondary education in the Albanian language, which is already provided, an Albanian-language university that is now privately funded would also receive state funds.
The peace plan also calls for a census later this year to clearly establish the country's ethnic composition, and for new general elections, followed by an international conference to raise tens of millions of dollars to revive Macedonia's moribund economy.
Some key Macedonian politicians expressed their overall support for the proposal Friday, but said they were concerned about the number of provisions based on ethnicity. Ethnic Albanian leaders expressed reservations, and Macedonians accused them of stalling the peace effort.
A tenuous cease-fire between the army and ethnic Albanian rebels has held for nearly eight days despite a few minor shootouts that caused no injuries, the Defense Ministry said yesterday.
If a peace deal is reached, some 3,000 NATO troops would be deployed to oversee the disarmament of the rebels, who launched an insurgency in February to fight for broader rights for ethnic Albanians. Macedonian army spokesman Blagoja Markovski estimated yesterday that the rebels number from 4,000 to 6,000.
The government mobilized troops against the rebels and accused them of trying to break up the country and create a new ethnic Albanian state, possibly together with ethnic Albanians from neighboring Albania and Kosovo, in Yugoslavia. Dozens have died in the clashes, which have mostly taken place in the northwestern part of the Vermont-sized nation.
Diplomats said last week that the U.S.-EU framework plan, which left room for debate, was the best deal available. Macedonian leaders described it as broadly acceptable in its current form.
But the Albanians said the proposal was not sufficient to persuade rebels of the National Liberation Army (NLA) to hand in their guns to NATO as demanded.
"What was offered to us cannot eliminate the consequences that led to the crisis we have now in Macedonia," said Abdylhadi Veseli, an ethnic Albanian and senior official of the Party for Democratic Prosperity.
Analysts warned that striking a quick deal will be virtually impossible.
"There is effectively no common ground on which to have a dialogue," said Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank. "If we are really serious about this, we are going to have to take into account that we are going to be there for a long time."
This could also apply to NATO, which refuses to countenance an effective partition of Macedonia by policing military lines.
Desperate to avoid troops in body bags and a third Balkan peacekeeping force alongside those in Bosnia and Kosovo, the alliance is hoping its offer of 3,000 soldiers to collect NLA arms will be enough to secure peace.
"NATO and Macedonia want different things," said one military source. "NATO wants to move in quickly, collect a few weapons and get out without any casualties. Macedonia wants something slightly longer term."

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