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Tuesday, 12 March, 2002, 22:50 GMT
Analysis: Macedonia's shaky peace
Ethnic Albanian refugees
The aid will help the region's ethnic Albanian minority
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By the BBC's Paul Anderson
line

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.

Ethnic Albanian guerilla
The peace deal followed fighting between government and Albanian rebels

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.

Corruption fears

But a closer inspection of the realities of political and economic life must give some pause for thought.


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

ICG officer Ed Joseph
As the conference started, there were sobering warnings to its organisers not to allow the money to sink into the mire of corruption and graft, which many observers say characterises much of Macedonia's political elite.

"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.

Mysterious killings

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.

A bullet found at the scene where seven men were shot by Macedonian security forces
There has been conflicting information as to the circumstances of the killings

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.

Terrorist claim

After the US State Department denied the claim, the Macedonian sources retracted it.

Guns and paraphenalia recovered from the dead men
Mr Boskovski claimed the men were Islamic extremists

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.

Currying favour

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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See also:

12 Mar 02 | Europe
Donors double Macedonia aid
07 Mar 02 | Europe
Macedonia passes rebel amnesty
07 Dec 01 | Europe
Macedonia aid under threat
20 Nov 01 | Europe
Macedonia 'war crimes' probe
16 Nov 01 | Europe
Macedonia adopts new constitution
09 Oct 01 | Europe
Macedonia grants rebels amnesty
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