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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK
Q & A: Macedonia violence
As police in Macedonia stage what appears to be the biggest crackdown against ethnic Albanian gunmen since a six-month conflict between the two sides ended in August 2001, BBC South-East Europe analyst Gabriel Partos asks how dangerous the situation is.

Why has the violence flared up?

The latest violence followed the brief abduction of a police officer and a civilian by a self-styled local Albanian National Army (AKSh) commander, Avdil Jakupi. The incident came after months of violent activities by the shadowy AKSh, not only in Macedonia but also in the neighbouring United Nations-administered entity of Kosovo.

Members of Macedonia's large ethnic Albanian community - which accounts, according to official figures, for a quarter of the country's population - have traditionally felt treated as second-class citizens.

This discontent fuelled an armed campaign by guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (UCK) in 2001.

But wasn't that conflict brought to an end with the Ohrid peace deal in August that year?

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Yes, Ohrid brought an end to that intense phase of the conflict. The UCK was formally disbanded and under its leader, Ali Ahmeti, it transformed itself into a political party, the Democratic Union for Integration. It subsequently emerged as the strongest of the ethnic Albanian parties and it's now part of Macedonia's coalition government.

Why aren't the Albanian gunmen satisfied with this?

The AKSh is far more radical than Mr Ahmeti's UCK, which took up arms to gain equal rights. The AKSh stands for the creation of a greater Albania through the union of ethnic-Albanian inhabited territories - Kosovo, northern and western Macedonia, the Presevo valley of southern Serbia and parts of eastern Montenegro - with the mother country, Albania.

Is there a risk of a return to an all-out conflict?

At the moment the risk looks remote. The vast majority of ethnic Albanians want to give Mr Ahmeti and his colleagues a chance to put the improvements agreed at Ohrid into practice. Others regard the AKSh as using the ideology of Albanian unity as a smokescreen for a variety of criminal undertakings, including cross-border smuggling.

But has life improved for the Albanian minority over the last couple of years?

Some of the undertakings made at Ohrid have been slowly becoming a reality. For example, the police units involved in this weekend's operations around Brest were, according to the Interior Ministry, ethnically mixed.

An eight-year dispute over the Albanian-language university in the north-western town of Tetovo was also finally brought to an end this summer when it gained formal recognition.

Macedonia is becoming a country where members of the ethnic Albanian community feel increasingly at home.

Is the international community still involved?

Yes. The European Union launched its first-ever peacekeeping operation at the end of March when it took over command of the previously Nato-led mission in the country. The EU's Operation "Concordia" now has 380 soldiers and civilians deployed in Macedonia to help oversee the implementation of the Ohrid agreement. On the diplomatic front both the EU countries and the United States are continuing to take an active interest in encouraging peaceful development in Macedonia.

What is the worst-case scenario?

The greatest danger to short-term stability would be posed by a possible crackdown by the Macedonian security forces - if it produced civilian victims.

It's conceivable that the AKSh is trying to provoke precisely that kind of incident because it could then portray itself as the defender of the Albanian community.

If the blood of ethnic Albanian civilians is spilt, large-scale violence could return to Macedonia.

What role is Kosovo playing?

For generations there have been the closest of links between Albanians in Macedonia and Kosovo. Before Yugoslavia's break-up in 1991, they were not separated by an international border, and since then they have been helping each other during difficult times, such as 1999 in Kosovo and 2001 in Macedonia. At present Kosovo is playing a stabilising role. But a return to conflict in either entity could easily spill over the border.

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