- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 8, 2001

Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski stood on a balcony of a villager's home and watched as Macedonian government forces launched an offensive against the ethnic Albanian town of Ljuboten last month. National television spun the entire attack as part of a military effort to rid the town of "terrorists," and said he was present during the entire offensive. An investigation by Human Rights Watch found a different story: Grave abuses by government troops were actually aimed at civilians, and Mr. Boskovski was present during the worst of it. The actions outlined in the detailed report, released by the human rights group on Wednesday, highlight once again the mixed message that the Macedonian government is giving regarding its commitment to the peace process.
It has been less than a month since the four main parties from Macedonia's government signed a Western-brokered peace accord to try to stop the conflict between Albanian rebels and Macedonian forces. However, their agreement is only as good as their parliament's approval. Shortly after the NATO troops started collecting weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels last week, they were forced to stop while the Macedonian parliament continued its deliberations. While a Macedonian parliamentary vote this week cleared the way for the collection to begin again within 48 hours, guerrillas have taken advantage of the lull to go back to training for another armed conflict. They may yet have the opportunity to use that training, as the Thursday parliamentary vote was only an initial step toward implementing the peace accord. The lawmakers have yet to approve specific changes to the constitution which would give ethnic Albanians greater rights in exchange for rebel disarmament. Any further stalling of the peace process could give them ample opportunity to return to battle.
How the minority Albanians will be treated in the future is something that cannot be decided by the Macedonian parliamentarians alone. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia could help by looking into the allegations of the offensive by Macedonian forces in Ljuboten Aug. 10 -12. The Human Rights Watch report, based on interviews with victims and witnesses, said the village was sealed off and shelled for two days. Many of those who tried to flee were beaten, killed or imprisoned, according to the report. The Macedonian government is denying wrongdoing on the part of both the interior minister and the military forces. It should provide evidence to uphold these claims.
NATO wisely said from the beginning that it would not stay past the Sept. 26 deadline to collect rebel weapons. Macedonians must now prove they are serious about peace while they still have a large international military force there to help them. They should be assured, however, that the international judicial institutions will be prepared to investigate government abuses long after NATO leaves.


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