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Macedonia: War on Hold


Macedonian and Albanian political leaders signed a political agreement - hailed by its Western midwives as a peace agreement - on 13 August 2001. NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson and the European Union's High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, flew to Skopje to attend the signing ceremony. But the strange context of the signing showed just how implausible it is that, without further extraordinary efforts, the agreement will actually provide a workable way to keep multiethnic Macedonia out of civil war. Details of the agreement had been hammered out by 8 August in Ohrid, a resort town chosen for the negotiations because it was some distance away from the latest fighting. Signature was delayed five days, however, while Macedonian government troops and ethnic Albanian rebels engaged in the deadliest series yet of tit-for-tat retaliations. Terms of the agreement were withheld from the public lest they provoke violent responses from hardliners on both sides. The ceremony, when it finally occurred, was carried out almost furtively, in a small room of the President's residence, without live television.

The Ohrid agreement provides for significant constitutional amendments and political reforms that would improve the status of the ethnic Albanian minority (approximately one-third of the country's population of two million) while maintaining the unity of the Macedonian state. It requires ratification in parliament, however, by a vote of two-thirds, within 45 days of signature.

Each of the main players has its own set of highly sensitive conditions that must be met before the agreement can begin to fulfil its potential:

- The Macedonian side insists the ethnic Albanian rebels must prove their good faith by giving up their arms to NATO before it will ratify the agreement.

- The ethnic Albanian rebels insist that they will not disarm until the Macedonian side proves its good faith by ratifying the agreement.

- NATO says it will deploy in Macedonia to collect the rebels' weapons but only for 30 days and not until a firm cease-fire is in place. (Gunfire was still crackling sporadically near Skopje on 13 August, after the signing, and Macedonian special forces used at least a dozen heavy fire artillery grenades during an unsuccessful attempt to recapture a portion of Tetovo the evening of 14 August.) NATO did announce on 14 August, however, that it had reached agreement with the NLA on terms and procedures for an eventual arms turnover.

The substantially mirror-image requirements obviously can only be satisfied with considerable further effort and finesse - and more than a modicum of good will by all concerned. Unfortunately, despite the agreement, there is little trust or even expectation of peace among either ethnic Albanians or Macedonians. That puts a heavy burden on the international community, which will need to decide a number of questions urgently. These include whether NATO's mission should be expanded to include quicker entry, perhaps without all its conditions having been met; whether the mission should have a more open-ended time frame and a more vigorous, traditional peacekeeping role; whether NATO can do more to stop the flow of arms and fighters across the border from Kosovo; as well as how to use the period before an anticipated donors conference to leverage badly needed economic assistance with both ethnic Albanians and the Macedonian government.

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