Macedonia’s cease-fire edged toward collapse yesterday with the government in Skopje denouncing a U.S.-European draft agreement to end the conflict as a “brutal” attempt to impose separatist Albanian demands on the Slavic majority.
Washington called the accusation “clearly untrue.”
Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said a proposal that includes a provision for Albanian to be recognized as an official language is an “ultimatum” to the Macedonians, who fear the Albanians want to federalize the country into two separate ethnic entities.
As the prime minister spoke, shooting erupted in the north of the country, underscoring the frailty of the U.S.- and European-brokered truce.
The reform package was backed by the U.S. and European Union envoys, James Pardew and Francois Leotard.
But Mr. Georgievski dismissed the draft as a “cowboy style” effort.
“This is a scenario for fracturing Macedonia. We are concerned by their cowboy style, with which they are trying to break down state institutions,” Mr. Georgievski said of the two Western mediators.
He called the package, which also includes a proposal for a local police force to be set up independently of the Interior Ministry, a “serious interference in internal Macedonian affairs.”
“Now the masks are off, and it is clear that the terrorist organizations in Macedonia enjoy serious backing and logistical support from Western democracies,” he said.
Mr. Pardew and Mr. Leotard denied the accusations and said that although “this is a difficult decision for the leaders of Macedonia,” it was “up to them to decide the future of the country.”
“The EU and U.S. draft preserves the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unitary character of the Republic of Macedonia,” they said in a joint statement.
They pointed out that the draft provided for retaining Macedonian as the “primary official language” throughout the country and maintaining control over the police.
In Washington, the State Department urged a speedy conclusion of the negotiations.
“It’s not worth the time to be spending with accusations that are clearly untrue,” said Philip Reeker, the department’s deputy spokesman.
“I don’t think anybody is tied to any particular draft,” he said. “The current draft obviously has not met full approval from all the parties, but it’s quite clear also that the parties have significantly narrowed their differences.”
The situation in Macedonia was a topic of a 90-minute meeting of foreign ministers from the six-member Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia, which gathered yesterday in Rome ahead of the annual summit of the world’s leading economies in Genoa, Italy.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said any agreement has to respect “the rights of all the people of Macedonia.”
The Contact Group, made up of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia, didn’t make any formal decisions on how to bolster the peace process but agreed that negotiators on the ground were in the best position to handle all developments, officials said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.