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Patten brokers 30m deal for peace in Macedonia.

the Independent

By Stephen Castle in Brussels
11 July 2001

Macedonia's rancorous political parties were offered a cash inducement to settle their differences yesterday, with the European Union promising 50m euros (30m) more aid if a deal was struck between the Slav-dominated government and the ethnic Albanian minority.

Chris Patten, the European commissioner for external relations, also came out against the idea of revising national borders, opposing the idea of a peace conference that might redefine Balkan frontiers.

Speaking in Brussels, Mr Patten said there was no question the EU had the right action plan for the region. He said: "It is whether or not we have the staying power, the political will and the guts to see it through."

His intervention was made at a delicate moment in the negoti-ations among the political parties. Although a fragile ceasefire is in place, the parties are still trying to agree on a package of measures that would grant new political rights to the country's Albanian minority. If it is agreed, the National Liberation Army guerrillas would, in exchange, lay down their arms and allow a Nato peace-keeping force to decommission the weapons.

Mr Patten pointed to the 42m euros that had been already earmarked for Macedonia, and said Brussels was also considering "a package of more than 50m euros, including substantial budgetary assistance, tied to specific uses, if but only if there is a political agreement that is implemented." He also moved to dampen any prospect that the Albanian minority might get a better settlement from a new regional peace conference, probably after a political deal.

Although the initiative is favoured by Greece, Mr Patten derided the idea of "a grand conference and a bit of cartographic cut and paste; a sort of latter-day Congress of Berlin", saying: "The answer to the region's problems is more enlightened government, not more inspired map-making." He also painted a picture of a region where progress in some countries was blighted by setbacks in some others. He warned of the danger of creating in Bosnia-Herzegovina "a permanent international dependency which will never be able to dig itself out of its own difficulties".

And overall, he said, the Balkans suffered from a "pernicious web of organised crime, feeding nationalism and extremists and vice versa corrupting and emasculating public administrations, police and the judiciary".

Rival Albanian Peace Plan Hampers Macedonia Talks.


By Daniel Simpson

SKOPJE, Macedonia (Reuters) - Papers are flying around clandestine meetings in Skopje as ethnic Albanian leaders debate conflicting peace plans with their Macedonian rivals and Western envoys scramble to broker a quick deal.

Talks on political reforms designed to end an Albanian guerrilla revolt remained bogged down on Wednesday, despite the arrival of new foreign experts hoping to bridge a gulf between Albanian demands and the joint U.S.-EU proposals on the table.

``It's very tough indeed,'' one senior Western diplomat said, conceding it was like banging one's head against a brick wall.

U.S. special envoy James Pardew and the European Union's Francois Leotard have held talks late into the night to discuss a rival document presented by Albanian party leaders, which contains demands unpalatable to Macedonians and the West.

The new draft, obtained by Reuters, calls for radical constitutional changes, including an effective veto right for Albanians over almost any government decision they object to.

Diplomats say Macedonia's leading Albanian politician, Arben Xhaferi, is proving a formidable negotiating partner.

They suspect his hard-line stance is a bargaining ploy to capitalize on the success of the guerrilla National Liberation Army, whose rebellion in the name of Albanian minority rights has brought Macedonia to the brink of civil war in five months.

``Xhaferi is a cunning fox,'' one senior diplomat said, adding that the ailing 53-year-old with Parkinson's disease appeared to be fighting for his political life. ``He knows what he's doing.'' Xhaferi insists the veto idea, dismissed by the West as a non-starter and a recipe for gridlock, is essential to ensure the minority -- about one third of the population in this small Balkan republic -- is not discriminated against by Macedonians.

``They have an aggressive policy within my land and I have a defensive policy,'' he told Reuters in an interview this week.

LONG HAUL Diplomats say the U.S.-EU framework plan, which leaves room for debate, is the best deal available. Macedonian leaders have described it as broadly acceptable in its current form.

The plan would strengthen local self-government, give the Albanian language official status and contain mechanisms to ensure sensitive laws on cultural and clearly ethnic issues would require minority backing.

But the Albanians are unfazed by the heavy pressure being put on them to sign up, saying the proposal is not sufficient to persuade NLA rebels to hand in their guns to NATO as planned.

``What was offered to us cannot eliminate the consequences that led to the crisis we have now in Macedonia,'' said Abdylhadi Veseli, a senior Party for Democratic Prosperity official.

To bolster efforts to secure compromise, Max van der Stoel of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has joined the growing number of envoys on the ground in Skopje.

Analysts say the search for a quick deal looks increasingly farcical and warn that Western powers trying to narrow the tiny republic's ethnic divide might have to commit themselves to the long haul if a lasting agreement is to be reached.

``There is effectively no common ground on which to have a dialogue,'' said Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank. ``If we are really serious about this, we are going to have to take into account that we are going to be there for a long time.

This could also apply to NATO, which refuses to countenance an effective partition of Macedonia by policing military lines.

Desperate to avoid troops in body bags and a third Balkan peacekeeping force alongside those in Bosnia and Kosovo, the alliance is hoping its offer of 3,000 soldiers to collect NLA arms will be enough to kick-start the talks and secure peace.

``NATO and Macedonia want different things,'' one military source warned. ``NATO wants to move in quickly, collect a few weapons and get out without any casualties. Macedonia wants something slightly longer term.''

Macedonia Deal Has Detractors.


(CBS) Participants reported progress Monday at talks on defusing Macedonia's guerrilla war by elevating the status of the ethnic Albanian minority, but hundreds demonstrated against concessions, shouting "Macedonia for the Macedonians."

The participants did not want to be named, and asked that details of how the talks had progressed not be made public. But they suggested that the sides were moving closer to agreement on changes meant to satisfy ethnic Albanian demands while easing majority Macedonian concerns that too many concessions could fragment the country along ethnic lines.

However, hundreds of Macedonians marched through the capital Monday, chanting, "Macedonia for Macedonians," "No changes to our constitution" and "This is Macedonia."

Macedonia's crisis began in February, when militants from the ethnic Albanian community took up arms and clashed with government forces.

Earlier this month, NATO and the European Union mediated a cease-fire, and envoys James Pardew of the United States and Francois Leotard of the European Union are trying to broker an agreement.

Key provisions would introduce Albanian as the second official language, change the country's constitution to upgrade the status of the minority and guarantee better representation of ethnic Albanians in the government, police, army and education.

Ethnic Albanians, who account for nearly a third of Macedonia's 2 million people, have complained of treatment as second-class citizens. But many Macedonians see their demands as a strategy to divide the country and ultimately carve out an ethnic Albanian mini-state.

Ethnic Albanian leader Menduh Thaci said Sunday that the peace talks were progressing well and an agreement was near. But on Monday, another ethnic Albanian representative, Zahir Bekteshi, suggested a final agreement wasn't near, telling a reporter that the remaining disputes "cannot be solved in a day."

Macedonian officials stressed patience was wearing thin and warned that a breakdown in negotiations could spell the end of a NATO-brokered truce, which has contained fighting with the National Liberation Army guerrillas for the past 11 days.

"We are not even close to reaching a final agreement," a government source said. "If things continue as they are, I'm not sure that the cease-fire will hold."

Western leaders worry that if Macedonia were to become unstable, the tense peace among rival ethnic groups in the Balkans could unravel. The former Yugoslavia has been the site of four wars in the past decade.

Any political agreement was expected to result in an end to the ethnic Albanian insurgency. If the rival sides agree on a peace plan, some 3,000 NATO troops would deploy to oversee the disarmament of the rebels, who number between 4,000 and 6,000 according to Macedonian government estimates.

The Macedonian demonstrators walked past the local offices of NATO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union, which is helping to mediate negotiations.

Protest organizer Tomislav Stojanovski said the demonstrators were demanding meetings with Pardew and Leotard.

"We want to tell the people who dictate terms of peace that we need protection from those who started the war," Stojanovski said.

The cease-fire entered its 11th day Monday generally intact. But the Defense Ministry said rebels attacked a police checkpoint overnight near the northern city of Tetovo and fired a few rounds at army barracks on the outskirts of the city. No one was injured.

Tens of thousands of people on both sides have been displaced by the fighting. Many ethnic Albanians have fled over the border into Kosovo, a predominantly ethnic Albanian province of neighboring Serbia.

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