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Saturday, 17 March, 2001, 02:24 GMT
EU pledges support to Macedonia
Ethnic Albanians pray in a mosque in Tetovo
EU will explore ways of improving the situation in Tetovo
By Oana Lungescu in Brussels

The European Union has expressed its support to the government of Macedonia, as the fighting between Albanian rebels and Macedonian security forces escalates.
Tetovo, Macedonia
Fighting has been raging in the Macedonian town of Tetovo

The defusing ethnic tensions will top the agenda at next Monday's meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels.

On Thursday, the European Commisioner for external affairs Chris Patten telephoned the Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski to express his support and condemn the violent attacks of what he called a small minority of extremists.

His spokesman Gunnar Wiegand said the EU has offered the goverment of Macedonia support to improve the management of border crossings.

Tetovo University

At the same time, Mr Patten offered financial assistance for projects aimed at improving the lot of the sizeable ethnic Albanian population in Macedonia.


We have committed ourselves to support the creation of a university which would work in Albanian, and that is something new

Gunnar Wiegand
The South East Europe University in Tetovo - a private institution set up recently with the mediation of the OSCE High Commissioner for Minorities - will also be discussed at Monday's meeting.

Sweden, which hlds the rotating EU presidency, argues that, due to its symbolic significance, the university project should benefit from increased EU and bilateral assistance.

Chris Patten
Mr Patten expressed his support for Boris Trajkovski
The paper also says that the EU should explore ways of improving the situation of the Albanian minority in Macedonia, especially in the underdeveloped western part of the country, through job-creating infrastructure projects.

Sweden also proposes that the EU should consider technical assistance to the forthcoming census and encourage the Macedonian authorities to recruit and train ethnic Albanian staff to national statistics office.

Reforms

Since at the end of the Kosovo war in 1999, most international non-governmental organisations left Macedonia for Kosovo, Sweden would like them to encourage them to return to support the integration of minorities.

A local from Tetovo jumps into a carriage
EU wants to improve the lot of the Albanian population in Macedonia
And it suggests that the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe should also stregthen its mission to support the training of a multiethnic police force and to improve local self-government.

Overall, Sweden believes that the Macedonian Government should be encouraged to speed up domestic reforms aimed at increasing minority rights and representation in official structures, especially the police, and to strengthen the role of the Albanian language.

It also recommends continued dialogue with both Slav and Albanian political parties in Macedonia, as well as with political leaders in Kosovo and Albania, urging everyone to distance themselves from extremist actions and ethnic intolerance.

Talks

On Monday, the Macedonian foreign minister Srdjan Kerim will travel to Brussels to hold talks both with EU foreign ministers and senior Nato officials.

Macedonian police forces
There are intensifying fears of a new Balkan conflict
Later that day, the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana will go to Skopje, together with a team of EU senior diplomats.

They will report their findings next Friday, to the summit of EU leaders in Stockholm.

The EU is also preparing to show its support for closer economic and political links with Macedonia by the signature of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement next month, the first such agreement concluded with a Balkan country, in the hope that Macedonia itself will remain stable until then.

If the EU doesn't act swiftly, Sweden warns it could face another humanitarian crisis in the Balkan region, with more significant numbers of refugees.

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See also:

15 Mar 01 | Europe
New Macedonia fighting erupts
14 Mar 01 | Europe
Macedonia conflict escalates
15 Mar 01 | Europe
In pictures: Macedonia rebellion
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