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Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 22:36 GMT 23:36 UK
Analysis: Macedonia test for EU
Macedonian helicopter gunship over Aracinovo
Macedonia accuses the EU of appeasing the rebels
By Angus Roxburgh in Brussels

The European Union has issued an urgent plea to Macedonians to pull back from the brink and "seize the remaining chance of peace, based on dialogue".

The appeal came in a statement issued at a foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg, after an EU-brokered ceasefire sparked large demonstrations in the Macedonian capital, Skopje.

The EU's constant refrain - aimed at both the Macedonian Government and the armed ethnic Albanian rebel groups - is that there can be no military solution, only a political one, based on dialogue and negotiation.

But the events have shown up some awkward ambiguities in the EU's position - which is to support Macedonia's democratically-elected government while condemning its use of force against the rebels, and to oppose the rebels' activities while supporting some of their demands for constitutional changes.

'Appeasing' Albanians

Seen through Macedonian eyes, the EU appears to be bending over backwards to appease the ethnic Albanians.

Javier Solana
EU's Javier Solana brokered the controversial ceasefire
Many Macedonians regard this as a continuation of an "anti-Slav" position adopted by the West from the Kosovo conflict onwards.

On Monday, they watched Nato escort rebel fighters out of the village of Aracinovo, from where they had threatened the capital Skopje, without even disarming them.

As a result, thousands of Macedonians spilled into the streets on Monday night to protest not just against the ceasefire but against what they saw as EU bias - in cracking a whip at the government by threatening to cut off financial aid and even put political ties on hold, and forcing them to end what was essentially defensive action against the rebels.

Constitutional change

The EU is arguing hard for constitutional changes that would meet some of the demands of the Albanian minority. They are arguing that the status of the Albanian language should be raised, and that more ethnic Albanians should be brought into state and public institutions.

Protesters outside Aracinovo on Monday 25 June 2001
Macedonians accuse the EU of bias

But the need for these changes is by no means accepted by most Macedonians. Even the concessions already promised by President Boris Trajkovski go too far for most. Many fear the Albanians want to federalise the country, into a Macedonian and an Albanian part.

So the EU stands accused of making things worse.

Yet the truth must be that, without the diplomatic efforts of security chief Javier Solana, the country might already have slipped into civil war.

EU envoy

There is to be a permanent EU presence in Skopje - a resident envoy, Francois Leotard. His job will be to liaise between the government and the Albanians, and to help establish a peace permanent enough for Nato to risk sending in troops to disarm the Albanian rebels.

His job is a difficult one, and there is no guarantee that he will succeed.

Even if a ceasefire is brought about, and troops go in, there remains a high risk that fighting will break out again, risking Nato being sucked into peace-enforcing rather than peace-keeping.

That is something it does not want to do.

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See also:

26 Jun 01 | Europe
Appeal for calm in Macedonia
26 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Straw cancels Macedonia visit
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