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Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK
Macedonia's road to peace?
Macedonian troops
Attempts to end the fighting have so far failed
By south-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

After three months of failed attempts - either through military or political means - to restore peace in the country, the Macedonian leadership may now be preparing a policy shift which could kick start the peace process.

In a television interview Prime Minister Lyubco Georgievski signalled his readiness to deal with some of the key demands put forward by the elected ethnic Albanian politicians and, more recently, by the guerrillas.

Ethnic Albanian rebels
Rebels have called for changes to the constitution
These include the demand that the constitution should be changed from its present version which describes Macedonia as the national state of the Macedonian people - thereby relegating the sizeable ethnic Albanian community to just one of the minorities in the country.

Albanians want to be considered a second constituent nation of Macedonia and for Albanian to be given the status of an official language.

And the predominantly Muslim Albanians are also opposed to what they see as the privileged status of the Macedonian Orthodox Church.

International agenda

Politicians representing the majority Macedonian community have been reluctant to go along with these demands which they believe would undermine Macedonia's unity.

Obviously this is the only solution that we have at the moment, and that is of course to fulfil our obligations before the international community

Lyubco Georgievski
But under sustained international pressure, they have been gradually sounding more accommodating to the ethnic Albanians.

And in his latest remarks Mr Georgievski has made it clearer than ever that he is aware of what needs to be done.

"This agenda is sponsored by the international community, and it is not a secret one," he said.

"It stipulates that in the next few months we should change the constitution of the Republic of Macedonia, most possibly to get rid of the preamble or to declare the second constituent nation in the country.

"Most probably we will have to declare the second official language and to delete [the reference] to the Macedonian Orthodox Church from the constitution."


Mr Georgievski's hints about the coming changes coincided with news that President Trajkovski has drawn up an amnesty.

Lyubco Georgievski
Georgievski says he knows what to do
Under his proposals, ethnic Albanian fighters - except those directly involved in killings and other serious crimes - would be allowed to cross into neighbouring Kosovo and surrender to the Nato-led K-For peacekeepers.

This would follow the pattern in the Presevo valley in southern Serbia where an amnesty deal has helped bring to an end the ethnic Albanian insurgency.

The new proposals from the prime minister and the president come more than three months after the outbreak of armed conflict in Macedonia.

So far repeated attempts to bring the fighting to an end have failed.

On the military front, the Macedonian security forces' major success in driving the ethnic Albanian guerrillas out of the Tetovo area did little more than produce a month-long lull in the fighting in April.

Unity tested

On the political front the formation of a government of national unity in mid-May was just a first step towards bringing all the key political forces together.

Boris Trajkovski
Trajkovski wants rebels to give themselves up in Kosovo
And their fragile unity has been severely tested by the abortive agreement between ethnic Albanian politicians and the guerrillas' political leader.

Instead of producing a truce, as its authors hoped, the deal has been denounced by the majority Macedonian community's leadership on the grounds that it had involved negotiations with those they consider terrorists.

Now there appears to be a chance that the latest initiatives could pave the way for a peaceful settlement.

However, there are at least two crucial questions that need to be answered. Mr Georgievski requires the support of other key Macedonian political forces for the constitutional amendments now being contemplated.

That means both his own centre-right VMRO-DPMNE party and Branko Crvenkovski's Social Democrats who recently joined the grand coalition.

Conflict fears

Mr Crvenkovski has already reacted cautiously and he has warned that the proposals could lead to the break-up of the coalition government.

And Mr Georgievski has himself expressed serious doubts as to whether the changes now being driven by the international community might not produce further conflict in the future.

"Someone will call it a peaceful agenda which will make Macedonia capitulate at the negotiating table, so that after three years we are going to have much stronger repetition of the violence," he said.

"But obviously this is the only solution that we have at the moment, and that is of course to fulfil our obligations before the international community."

Guerrilla response

Much depends also on the response of the ethnic Albanian guerrillas whose initial reaction to the planned amnesty was negative.

They claim their fighters are from Macedonia, and they may not want to accept an amnesty that requires them - or many of them - to move to Kosovo, even temporarily.

Perhaps more importantly, the guerrilla leadership want to be invited to the talks on Macedonia's future.

Having acquired a taste for enjoying their own political importance, they may not accept a settlement - even one that accommodates their demands - unless they are included in the negotiations.

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28 May 01 | Europe
Macedonia blasts rebel village
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