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Tuesday, 12 March, 2002, 22:50 GMT
Analysis: Macedonia's shaky peace
The decision to offer a massive aid package to Macedonia - more than half a billion euros - shows just how far the international community believes the country has come since the violence of last year.
Last August the Macedonians and Albanians signed a deal ending their conflict and allocating new powers and privileges to the minority Albanians.
The donors' conference depended on the adoption of the most important provisions.
Now that has happened, Macedonia's foreign supporters believe it is well on the road to peace.
But a closer inspection of the realities of political and economic life must give some pause for thought.
"We need action on corruption now," said Ed Joseph, the Macedonia officer of the research and consultative organisation, the International Crisis Group.
"There's trafficking in cigarettes, drugs, women and weapons, and it's all done on an institutional basis within a cozy, corrupt coalition of Albanian and Macedonian parties," he said.
There are also reports of rackets and back-handers from customs scams and the sale of state assets.
The IGC has called for the appointment of a special anti-corruption adviser.
However, Western officials have not warmed to the idea, saying instead they will be monitoring the aid distribution carefully.
But there is another event which is causing concern and which some observers say reveals at least part of the government in its true colours - that of the killing in early March of seven men, apparently from the Middle East and the sub-continent, by Macedonian security forces.
Precious little verifiable information is being released by the man in charge of the investigation, the Interior Minister, Ljube Boskovski.
In the second of two conflicting versions of events, a unit of special forces was despatched to a vineyard outside Skopje to apprehend the group.
The ministry says they were Mujahideen fighters, some from Pakistan.
It was acting on information received from four men - two Jordanians and two Bosnians - captured earlier.
When the unit challenged the group, they were fired on. The police responded, killing all seven.
At the scene uniforms were recovered bearing the insignia of the National Liberation Army - the ethnic Albanian rebel group which staged last year's insurrection.
Some cards with Arabic script were found, and a CD-Rom containing thousands of pages of Islamic imagery.
So the story remained until last week when government sources briefed American journalists that the Jordanians and Bosnians had been handed over to the Americans, and, it was believed, taken to their detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
After the US State Department denied the claim, the Macedonian sources retracted it.
Mr Boskovski has tried several times to plant the idea of a military and ideological connection between the rebel Albanian National Liberation Army and Islamic fundamentalism.
So far it has not stuck. And it appears not to be sticking still: Western diplomats seem more baffled than perturbed.
One said: "I see no evidence of substantial links between the NLA and international terrorist groups."
"This whole case is something we would like to get to the bottom of. There is an absence of information."
Sources within the government, too, say there are too many loose ends.
One official said: "If they got the information of potential attacks against Western embassies, why not pass it on?"
"Why did they send troops to protect western embassies and then withdraw them on the same day?"
The source said it was possible the men were illegal immigrants from the Indian sub-continent, not Mujahideen fighters.
He said Mr Boskovski was trying to curry favour with the West and the Macedonian people, by protraying himself as a leader in the fight against terrorism.
In comments reported last week, he called on the international community to do more to fight terrorism, "instead of leaving it up to the United States and Macedonia".
A shroud of silence now hangs over the whole incident, which may never be explained.
But observers are drawing their own conclusions - that even in relative peace Macedonia paints a vivid picture of inbstability and uncertain objectives.
The international community, they say, should take that into account in future dealings.
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