- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2001

The United States yesterday offered economic and political support to the embattled government of Macedonia as it tries to contain a new round of sectarian violence involving the majority ethnic Macedonians and the countrys Albanian minority.
Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, who flew to Washington on a hastily arranged trip after attacks by the shadowy Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) over the weekend left eight Macedonian security officers dead and six others wounded.
With Mr. Trajkovski at his side, Mr. Powell condemned the ethnic Albanian force as a "terrorists" out to "subvert the democratic process in Macedonia."
"I made the point to the president that we must not allow terrorists to derail political reconciliation," said Mr. Powell, praising efforts by the countrys leading Macedonian and ethnic Albanian parties to condemn the violence and work within the democratic process.
But even as the Macedonian president was flying to Washington, a four-hour melee in Bitola, Macedonias third-largest city, indicated the crisis may be entering a dangerous new stage.
Macedonian Slavs in Bitola yesterday hurled stones and torched businesses owned by ethnic Albanians. The rioting, which was finally brought under control by police, followed funerals for some of the eight soldiers who were killed in the weekend ambush along the countrys northern border with Kosovo.
Mr. Trajkovski, who meets with President Bush today, said Mr. Powells statement and the fact that he was able to meet on short notice with the very top officials of the administration was a strong signal of U.S. support for his governments efforts. In an address yesterday at the U.S. Institute for Peace, he rejected an offer this week by the NLA for direct talks with the government, mediated by the West, to end the fighting.
"These terrorists are not fighting for the rights of anybody," he maintained. "They are fighting for their own criminal aims and for territory."
State Department spokesman Phil Reeker said yesterday the United States backed Macedonias refusal to negotiate with the NLA.
"To have those people sit at a table is unacceptable," Mr. Reeker said yesterday. "We have legitimate political forces that are working together in Macedonia, representing a broad spectrum of the country, and thats the process that President Trajkovski intends to pursue and that we fully support."
Mr. Reeker also indicated that the U.S. government plans to boost its economic assistance to Macedonia next year above the current $55 million, and to provide help to the Macedonian military to deal with "extremist challenges."
While ethnic Albanian political parties have long shared power in Skopje, the countrys Albanian minority — believed to be between a quarter and nearly a third of the population — has complained about unequal treatment compared with the Macedonian Slavic majority.
Mr. Trajkovski said his government had already moved to address Albanian grievances, preparing an Albanian-language television station on the state broadcasting system and opening a new university in Tetovo, the largely ethnic Albanian city in the countrys north.
Long considered a model of interethnic cooperation in the unstable Balkans, Macedonia was rocked by a series of attacks and village seizures by the NLA beginning in February. Mr. Trajkovskis government has complained that the armed groups have links to a militant Albanian separatist organization operating in Kosovo across the border.
Macedonian security forces had apparently routed the rebels in operations that began in late March, but last weekends unexpected clashes produced the highest single-day loss since the fighting began.


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