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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Analysis: Macedonia talks setback
Macedonian policeman drinks coffee
Macedonian troops at ease, but for how much longer?
By the BBC's south-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

Hopes for an early settlement to the conflict in Macedonia have suffered a setback following Macedonian Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski's fierce criticism on Wednesday of Western envoys involved in the negotiations.

We are a small state but there are some boundaries that no-one in our country can cross

Prime Minister Georgievski
After Mr Georgievski's comments, Nato's Secretary-General George Robertson and the European Union's foreign policy co-ordinator, Javier Solana, have postponed a visit to Skopje which had been planned for Thursday.

And on Thursday ethnic Albanian politicians said there was no point in any further negotiations if the Macedonian side wanted to start once again from the beginning.

Just a week or so ago, there was a mood of optimism as prominent politicians from both the majority Macedonian and ethnic Albanian communities were predicting the imminent signing of a deal.

Ljupco Georgievski
Prime Minister Georgievski: outburst questioned envoys' neutrality
The expectation was that a general framework agreement would be initialled by the beginning of this week. That would lead to the deployment of a 3,000-strong Nato contingent within 10 days or so to oversee the collection of weapons from ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

But as the much-touted agreement failed to materialise, there were indications that some serious differences remained.

The most important of these was the proposal put forward by the Western mediators that Albanian should become, in effect, a second official language in parts of Macedonia with large ethnic Albanian communities.

Another point of contention for the Macedonian side was the plan for police officers to be appointed locally - albeit from a shortlist drawn up by the Ministry of the Interior.

Both issues are seen by many Macedonians as potentially leading to ethnic Albanian self-rule in the western and northern parts of the country.

Ethnic Albanians
Albanians demand recognition for their language
Prime Minister Georgievski was expressing these fears when he denounced the proposals: "[The] introduction of another official language and ethnically-based local police are totally unacceptable. That means that Macedonia should surrender," he said.

"This is serious interference in the internal affairs of one country of a magnitude that we have not seen before. We are a small state but there are some boundaries that no-one in our country can cross".

Personal attack

Mr Georgievski's highly undiplomatic language targeted not so much his ethnic Albanian adversaries as the main Western powers involved in the process of negotiating the deal.

That process has been a difficult one. The United States and the European Union are trying to accommodate ethnic Albanian demands for more extensive collective rights while ensuring that any concessions would not lead to the break-up of the Macedonian state.

Of concern is [Mr Pardew and Mr Leotard's] brutal and "cowboy" style in their efforts to break the state institutions in Macedonia

Prime Minister Georgievski
Given their role in performing this tricky balancing act, it was a particular blow to the US envoy, James Pardew, and his EU counterpart, Francois Leotard, to be singled out for personal criticism by Mr Georgievski.

The prime minister said: "[Mr Leotard and Mr Pardew's] package in its essence does not only represent serious interference in Macedonian internal matters but also de facto promotes the federalisation of Macedonia.

"But of even more concern... is their brutal and "cowboy" style in their efforts to break the state institutions in Macedonia and to subdue them into accepting what they see as the new future of Macedonia."

Such language does not promote trust and it clearly puts the foreign mediators in a difficult position by questioning their credentials as neutral facilitators of the peace process.

Rhetorical flourishes

In other places, the kind of language used by Mr Georgievski might have led to the complete breakdown of talks.

However, conditions in Macedonia are different. For one thing, Mr Georgievski - a nationalist writer before he moved into politics - is known for his rhetorical flourishes.

Boris Trajkovski
President Trajkovski's language has been more moderate than the prime minister's
He has previously said things which he did not quite mean.

Besides, given Macedonia's fractious coalition, Mr Georgievski represents just one part of the government, despite his position as prime minister.

Not only is he at loggerheads with his two ethnic Albanian coalition partners, but he is also competing with his Macedonian political rivals, the Social Democrats, in what may be the beginning of a long election campaign.

Elections are due by the end of January 2002, and neither Macedonian party wants to be seen by its supporters as giving in too easily to ethnic Albanian demands.

Measured tone

Meanwhile, the Social Democrats and President Boris Trajkovski - who comes from Mr Georgievski's centre-right VMRO party - have been using more moderate language to express their concerns.

"The talks during the last 12 days were constructive with the exception of the open issues concerning the use of language or the control of the local police. But there is an understanding that the talks will continue," said President Trajkovski.

Given the measured tone adopted by Mr Trajkovski and the progress made in many areas of the talks, the current setback need not lead to a breakdown in the negotiations.

However, ethnic Albanian leaders warned on Thursday that they would not be prepared to start the negotiations from scratch.

The war of words leaves may lead to further delays in reaching an agreement.

And every day lost in securing a deal increases the danger that the current shaky ceasefire could break down.

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See also:

10 Jul 01 | Europe
Envoys push for Macedonia peace
06 Jul 01 | Europe
Macedonia truce holds
06 Jul 01 | Europe
James Pardew: Balkan peacemaker
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