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European Commissioner Javier Solana (R) meets with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski in the town of Ohrid, west from Skopje, August 5, 2001. Macedonia's politicians resumed talks on August 6 to try to finalize a peace plan to defuse the five-month ethnic Albanian rebellion. (Oleg Popov/Reuters
A Macedonian policewoman holds an AK-47 machine gun at the airport during arrival of European Commissioner Javier Solana in the town of Ohrid, some 180 km (112 miles) west from Skopje, August 5, 2001. U.S. envoy James Pardew described talks to end an ethnic Albanian guerrilla revolt in Macedonia as "very difficult" on Saturday and there were ominous reports of fresh guerrilla fighting in neighboring Serbia. REUTERS/Oleg Popov
Agreement on Macedonia police.
OHRID, Macedonia -- Macedonian negotiators on Sunday reached agreement on police reforms, removing one of the main sticking points in the week-long talks.
European envoy Javier Solana, who joined the talks Sunday, said the power-sharing deal governing the country's police forces was a significant step forward in the peace process.
"I think we can say that the parties have agreed on the document on police," Solana told a news conference. The European Union foreign policy chief did not outline the plan.
But Western mediators indicated that a final peace deal could be reached as early as Monday.
"The hard part is behind us," U.S. envoy James Pardew told CNN, adding that "we could get this done very, very quickly" once the talks reconvene Monday morning.
Pardew described Sunday's deal as a "fundamental restructuring" of the Macedonia police.
Under the agreement, 1,000 Albanian policemen will be hired by July 2003 and deployed "according to the composition and disposition of the population," Pardew said. "There will be more Albanian policemen in Albanian areas."
Currently only 5 percent of the Macedonia police force is ethnic Albanian.
The appointment of police chiefs was another issue decided Sunday. According to Pardew, the chiefs will be appointed by Macedonia's interior minister and approved by municipal councils, increasing the councils' authority over the police chiefs.
Pardew described Sunday's deal as the "second of the two big hurdles" in the talks, the first being an agreement on language that was settled earlier in the week. Under that agreement, Albanian will be considered an official language in areas where ethnic Albanians make up at least 20 percent of the population.
The agreement on police reform came on the eighth day of Western-mediated talks between government officials and leaders of the country's ethnic Albanian political parties.
The talks are the latest effort to reach a political settlement to end a violent insurgency by ethnic Albanian rebels that has destabilized the Balkan nation.
-- Journalist Juliette Terzieff contributed to this report.
Canadian professor claims U.S. aids rebels in Macedonia, Washington denies it.
(CP) - The United States is helping both sides in the armed conflict between the Macedonian government and ethnic-Albanian rebels, says a Canadian university professor who has spent years studying the Balkan country.
"America is at war with Macedonia," said Michel Chossudovsky, an economics professor at the University of Ottawa. "There is conclusive evidence that they are helping" the ethnic-Albanian rebels. But Washington is also helping the Macedonian government in what amounts to giving aid to both sides, he said.
The claim of dual aid is echoed by reports in the Macedonian and west European press, along with statements from leading Macedonian politicians.
The allegations, however, have been dismissed by numerous experts who study the region, and an American military firm working in Macedonia. The U.S. government flatly denies it.
Chossudovsky, who has written extensively on Macedonia, insists Washington is actively helping the rebels. But for other experts on the region, the issue is far from conclusive.
"I totally reject the notion that the U.S. has trained ethnic-Albanians to wreck Macedonia," Heather Hurlburt, deputy director of the International Crisis Group, a think-tank on preventing conflict around the world, said from Washington.
To make sense of the opposing views, one needs to know the history behind the current turmoil in Macedonia, which declared independence in 1991 when the former Yugoslavia broke up.
Reports that Washington is funding the rebels in Macedonia stem from U.S. support for ethnic-Albanians in neighbouring Kosovo.
In February 1998, then Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic sent troops to crush an ethnic-Albanian uprising in Kosovo, Serbia's southern province.
The following year, after Milosevic refused to sign a western-dictated peace agreement, the United States and its NATO allies launched 78 days of air strikes against Yugoslavia.
During this period, the West formed links with the now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, a rebel group that has been tied to prostitution and drug running.
"There have been reports that rogue elements of the KLA have been trained by the CIA," said Gordon Bardos, a Balkans expert at Columbia University in New York.
Gary Dempsey, a foreign policy analyst for the Cato Institute in Washington, doubts the claim of U.S. aid for ethnic-Albanian rebels in Macedonia. However, he said the West was actively involved in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
"Covert actions were taking place in the Bosnian conflict and the early stages of the Kosovo conflict," he said.
When fighting erupted in Macedonia earlier this year, ethnic-Albanian veterans from the Kosovo war began shipping arms, soldiers and money to their brethren in Macedonia.
The National Liberation Army - the name used by the Macedonian rebels - is generally considered a proxy of the KLA. This has led Macedonian politicians to accuse the West of helping the rebels.
"It becomes obvious that all of terrorist actions in Macedonia have been supported by the western democracies," Macedonia's Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski was quoted as saying last month.
In late July, the German daily Berliner Zeitung reported that Macedonian secret police had proof that a U.S. military helicopter dropped supplies near rebel lines.
U.S. peacekeepers based in Kosovo denied the allegation.
Several experts on the region cautioned that one cannot confuse past aid to the Kosovo rebels with current aid in Macedonia.
But Robert Hayden, a Balkans expert at the University of Pittsburgh, said it's misleading to declare that past aid given to Kosovo rebels doesn't impact the current fighting in Macedonia.
"That's a little fraudulent," he said in a phone interview.
Hayden pointed to a statement in 1998 by a Kosovo rebel leader who said, "Kosovo was only the first step."
Ethnic-Albanian fighters have claimed parts of Greece, Montenegro - the smaller republic in the Yugoslav federation - and Macedonia.
Washington has known about rebel plans to create a greater Albania since 1998, said Hayden.
Chossudovsky, meanwhile, has drawn links between the Macedonian rebels and Military Professional Resources Inc., a private Virginia-based military firm.
MPRI, which has worked in Colombia and Croatia, is providing the Macedonian government with military expertise under a contract with the U.S. Defence Department.
Chossudovsky cited Macedonia press reports that Macedonian military information was sent to the rebels via MPRI's head of operations in Macedonia, who had a working relationship with a former commander of the Kosovo rebels.
The two had met in Croatia during the fighting there in the mid-'90s, Chossudovsky said.
A spokesman for MPRI, however, said it is ludicrous to think that the company would help both sides in the Macedonian conflict.
"As a publicly traded company we would not take that risk. We would end up in jail," said Ed Soyster, a company spokesman. "It doesn't make business sense."
Soyster said press reports connecting the company to the rebels are "absolutely not true."
MPRI has tens of millions of dollars in contract, most of them with the U.S. government. Engaging in covert actions would risk these contract, Soyster said.
A U.S. State Department official denied Washington is helping the rebels.
"The reports have been all wrong," said a department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another Balkan pot set to boil over.
Ever since the U.S./NATO "victory" in the Kosovo air war that put ethnic Albanians in power (i.e., the Kosovo Liberation Army), neighbouring Macedonia has been targeted for militant Albanian subversion.
Despite months of probes, killings and attacks inside Macedonia's border, followed by temporary ceasefires and negotiations brokered by NATO and the European Union (EU), civil war seems inescapable.
Few expect the latest ceasefire to last.
Simmering volcanoes inevitably erupt.
At stake is Macedonia's sovereignty and integrity. Maybe even its existence. Certainly its stability.
Macedonia is a "new" (1991) but very old (Alexander the Great) country the size of Vermont (or half the size of Nova Scotia), with a population of two million, maybe 25% of which is ethnic Albanian. Until Kosovo, ethnic relations were considered relatively harmonious.
No longer. Albanian militants comprising the National Liberation Army (using the Albanian initials UCK, the same as in Kosovo, but different) claim to be fighting for human rights and equal treatment but are suspected of wanting part of Macedonia for Kosovo, or even a Greater Albania - as Albanian maps have long depicted.
Leaders of the NLA and many of its fighters are the very ones who agitated, provoked and goaded Serbs into retaliations that led to the U.S./NATO air war against Slobodan Milosevic's regime.
Similar militancy is underway in Macedonia.
An older "liberation" (terrorist?) movement with the initials UCPMB is also active and wants Albanian areas united with Kosovo, which the NLA publicly rejects in favour of more rights for Albanians, which the government feels aren't needed.
The majority of Macedonia's ethnic Albanians haven't overtly sided with several thousand NLA fighters, but as time goes on, sympathy grows and more will likely join the cause.
Ostensibly, what Macedonian Albanians want is recognition as equals under Macedonia's constitution, Albanian to be an official language (they got that last week) and a state-funded Albanian university established.
The government - probably correctly - sees concessions as a first step toward breaking up or surrendering the country. They hardly seem a reason for civil war, yet that's what looms.
Macedonia views insurgents as rebels and terrorists who, if not crushed, will blossom into a legitimate dissident movement. That is, all-out civil war.
Predictably, western countries favour negotiations, arbitration, mediation - anything but overt military response.
Contrary to conventional opinion, military solutions are often more permanent than negotiated ones. (The solution to Hitler was a military one, as was a unified Vietnam for Hanoi).
The Macedonian army is small potatoes, and not geared for guerrilla war, as the NLA is. The single greatest advantage the 17,000-member Macedonian army has over the rebels is a few combat helicopters, some flown by Ukrainians.
Macedonia's President Boris Trajkovski and military leaders have been urged not to use helicopters against the NLA, else they risk NATO intervening on humanitarian grounds to protect Albanian civilians.
Macedonia is fearful NATO might do to it what NATO did to Serbia, since NATO and the U.S. supported the KLA in Kosovo, even aiding and training them.
While NATO (and when I say NATO I also mean the U.S., Britain and, by implication, Canada) doesn't consider itself an ally of ethnic Albanians, it certainly has been, and still is, judging from the way it opposes Macedonia from protecting itself.
When the NLA attacks villages and makes territorial gains, NATO and EU diplomats negotiate a ceasefire - with the NLA keeping part of what it gains, and Macedonia urged to show restraint.
My advice to the Macedonian leadership would be to do whatever it considers necessary to preserve their country's sovereignty. Emulate Israel, which ignores all outside advice that conflicts with what Israel feels is in its interests. Israel may often be wrong, but its decisions are motivated by survival and its own interests, not to please foreign concerns.
In the Balkans, the unappeasable cannot be appeased. In a Macedonian context, that means Albanian rebels.
Whatever it takes
If it takes attack helicopters to establish authority over its border territory, or to defeat insurgents, Macedonia shouldn't hesitate. The West always prefers restraint to military action - unless western (U.S.) interests are threatened.
That NATO might shoot down Macedonian helicopters if they attacked Albanian rebels verges on the inconceivable. Imagine the headlines: "NATO at war with Macedonia." No way.
Kosovo was an unnecessary war by NATO and the U.S. that destabilized the Balkans and destroyed the myth of NATO as a defensive alliance and not an offensive instrument.
Historically, Macedonia has strong nationalistic pride, but is no threat to neighbours and has no reputation of mistreating minorities. Even if some Albanians feel alienated, Macedonia is not Serbia. It was generous taking in refugees during the Kosovo war and co-operated with NATO and humanitarian agencies.
Macedonia deserves better than to be subverted by militants for some greater Albanian goal. But mostly it should learn from the past and tell NATO to butt out, and do whatever is necessary to protect itself. The Macedonians might find they have more allies than they think.