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Macedonians stage Sydney protest against NATO.
SYDNEY, July 8 (AFP) -
Macedonians living in Australia responded to tensions in their homeland caused by an ethnic Albanian insurgency by marching on the US consulate here Sunday chanting "Shame NATO, shame."
Organisers said about 5,000 Macedonians rallied in Sydney aganst what they say is the failure of NATO and the European Union (EU) to quash separatist aspirations of ethnic Albanians.
Guerrillas currently waging war in Macedonia aim to link the UN-run Yugoslav territory of Kosovo with Macedonia's Albanian population to form a greater Albanian homeland.
Kosovo won a de facto independence from Yugoslavia after NATO's intervened against atrocities there in 1999.
The rally, organised by the Macedonian Australian Council, condemned both NATO and the EU for what the council said was the obstruction of Macedonia's efforts to crush the rebellion.
"We want to see the Australian government, NATO and the European Union support an immediate and legitimate elimination of all terrorist movements from the Balkans as a basic pre-condition to peace in Macedonia and the Balkans," council chairman Igor Aleksandrov told journalists.
"We hope to show the Australian government that NATO policies in the Balkans during the past 10 years, through deals with Albanian nationalist terrorists, have only led to an increase in... ethnic cleansing for the purpose of creating a greater Albania.
"We will continue to lobby for a stop to negotiations with Albanian terrorists and nationalist extremists."
The protest follows NATO attempts to persuade the Macedonian government to grant constitutional concessions to Albanian nationalists.
"We condemn all attempts by NATO, the EU and the Macedonian president to reward terrorism by negotiating with Albanian extremists and legitimising their racist demands for ethnic segregation of Macedonia," a council statement said.
Steven Milisevski, 17, told ABC radio the demonstration did not target all Albanians, but only those seeking to partition Macedonia.
"We must not do deals with the devil, that is talk to terrorists because when you live in a country, you must abide by its laws," he said.
"Tell me, if a major ethnic group in Australia formed a terrorist force and wanted to self-rule, do you think the Australian government would negotiate? They would not."
Macedonia Albanians reject peace plan.
The envoys presented the draft on Saturday.
Leaders of ethnic Albanian political parties in Macedonia have rejected constitutional changes put forward by the West as a basis for new peace talks.
In an interview with Reuters news agency, they said the proposals could not stop the fighting between government forces and ethnic Albanian rebels, and vowed to press for a better deal when negotiations resumed.
"I didn't start the war, I want to stop the war," Arben Xhaferi, leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), said. But he added: "This offering cannot stop the war."
The president of the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP), Imer Imeri, also took a tough line.
"For the most part we will disagree with this when we start talking," he said.
"There is no substanstial difference from what was on the table before," he added.
Consultations with the Macedonian parties on the draft are expected to take place on Monday.
The leaders of Macedonia's political parties were given a draft document on Saturday.
The document is thought to propose greater use of the Albanian language in official business, more Albanians in public service jobs and the devolution of power to mayors and municipalities.
The United States special envoy to Macedonia and his European Union counterpart presented the document after a Nato-brokered ceasefire between government troops and the ethnic Albanian rebels cleared the way for political dialogue.
The Macedonian Government signed up to the Nato-brokered agreement on Thursday after the rebels agreed to do the same.
The ceasefire, which began a little shakily on Thursday, is said to have been largely holding.
There is much more optimism about this ceasefire than previous attempts to end hostilities between government forces and the guerrillas, who have been battling for control of villages in the north of the country since February.
A truce, struck with the help of EU's foreign policy representative, Javier Solana, had technically already been in place since 24 June, but was broken on an almost daily basis.
Nato has 3,000 troops from 15 countries at the ready for deployment in Macedonia, once its conditions have been met.
The force, which is likely to be led by British troops, will oversee voluntary disarmament of the rebels.
Macedonian Albanians Attack U.S.-EU Peace Plan.
By Daniel Simpson
TETOVO, Macedonia (Reuters) - Leaders of Macedonia's Albanian minority on Sunday dismissed a Western-backed plan to revive deadlocked peace talks as inadequate, vowing to fight for a better deal when negotiations resume on Monday.
Their stance clouded optimism expressed by U.S. and European Union envoys that a proposal on political reforms they presented on Saturday would form the basis of efforts to end a 20-week-old Albanian guerrilla rebellion by improving minority rights.
``I didn't start the war, I want to stop the war,'' Macedonia's foremost Albanian politician Arben Xhaferi told Reuters in an interview. ``This offering cannot stop the war.''
Xhaferi, leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), said he was holding out for the West to back radical demands for constitutional change, blamed by the Macedonian majority for crippling the talks, and send in NATO troops to keep the peace.
``They must impose the same standards as in the rest of former Yugoslavia,'' he said. ``They must say the Albanians have the same rights as Croats in Bosnia.''
The leader of Macedonia's other main Albanian party, Imer Imeri, also took a tough line, shrugging off the fact that diplomats say the plan on the table is the only option on offer.
``For the most part we will disagree with this when we start talking tomorrow,'' Imeri, president of the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP), told Reuters in a separate interview. ``There is no substantial difference from what was on the table before.''
Diplomats said the Albanians were seriously mistaken if they believed NATO, which plans to collect weapons from the rebels if they agree to disarm, would send another peacekeeping mission to former Yugoslavia in addition to those in Bosnia and Kosovo.
``We don't need a third protectorate in the Balkans. The people here need to resolve their own differences and not have a military occupation force,'' one said, adding that the message to both sides of the ethnic divide was simple:
``Talk here, talk now, this is the best option you have.''
Albanian leaders want a peace summit outside the country but the idea is rejected by Macedonians, who fear such a conference could serve a separatist Albanian agenda.
The joint U.S.-EU proposals, obtained by Reuters, would decentralize power in Macedonia, make Albanian an official language and create mechanisms to ensure legislation on sensitive ethnic issues would need minority backing to be passed by parliament.
Almost all of these proposals are acceptable to the majority, Macedonia's Social Democratic party (SDSM) said.
``The only problematic point at this minute for us is the free use of the Albanian language in parliament,'' SDSM vice president Radmila Shekerinska told Reuters. ``To my knowledge everything is acceptable and we can talk about it.''
But Xhaferi said this was not enough, demanding an effective veto on any law deemed not to be in the interests of Albanians.
The EU, which has declared the demand a non-starter and a recipe for gridlock, had to recognize that Macedonia's ethnic divisions needed special handling like those in Bosnia, he said.
``It's not enough to say it's better to be normal,'' he said.
GUERRILLAS SET AGENDA
Both leaders acknowledged that the National Liberation Army (NLA) guerrillas, whose rebellion in the name of minority rights has brought Macedonia to the brink of civil war, had been more successful than they in getting Albanian grievances addressed.
``If there was no NLA no one would seriously get involved in dialogue with Albanians,'' Imeri said. ``The bottom line is that every Albanian in his soul is with the NLA.''
But both denied they were fighting for their political lives by pushing a hard-line agenda to guard against rivals such as NLA political representative Ali Ahmeti giving up their guns and later standing for office on the basis of gains they helped win.
``It is not really relevant whether Ali Ahmeti, Imer Imeri or Arben Xhaferi is the most successful politician,'' Imeri said.
Western diplomats, who brokered a cease-fire last week to ease pressure on the talks, are leaning heavily on both sides to compromise, dangling the prospect of an international donors' conference as an incentive to agree a peace deal.
But Albanian leaders, who argue their community has been widely discriminated against by Macedonians in the decade since independence, said offers of foreign aid were irrelevant.
``I cannot...trade ideas for money,'' Xhaferi said.
Western diplomats said the hard-line stance appeared to be self-defeating unless it was just a negotiating tactic.
``They're going to have to ask themselves do they really want to return to a state of war with more refugees, more tragedy and they still don't have their issues resolved, so it would be tragic if they don't seize this opportunity,'' a diplomat said.
Macedonian police say shots fired near Kosovo border.
TETOVO, Macedonia, July 8 (AFP) -
Macedonia's government and ethnic Albanian rebels traded accusations Sunday of breaches of a NATO-sponsored ceasefire, a day ahead of key negotiations aimed at hammering out a political settlement.
Macedonian police said rebels from the self-proclaimed National Liberation Army (NLA) opened fire with automatic weapons near Tetovo in northwestern Macedonia, the latest in a series of reported weekend guerilla activity.
NLA rebels were also accused of firing automatic weapons overnight Saturday near the border post of Jazince in the country's northwest, while national radio reported that rebels had also attacked Macedonian positions overnight near Slupcane, a village northeast of the capital Skopje.
On Sunday, groups of men in NLA uniforms threw up several checkpoints outside Tetovo -- the heartland of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian population -- briefly stopping cars coming from nearby Drenovec and Poroj, an AFP journalist reported.
But one rebel said the guerrillas had come out of their mountain hideouts because they had been attacked.
Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski said the rebels were not respecting the ceasefire and were behaving "like paramilitary police, controlling traffic and the identity of drivers."
An unlimited NATO-brokered ceasefire came into force at midnight on Thursday.
Accepted by both Skopje and the NLA, it is aimed at ending a five-month rebel uprising that has sent the multi-ethnic state to the brink of civil war and displaced more than 100,000 people.
Macedonian Slav and ethnic Albanian leaders have been negotiating over political reforms to shore up the rights of Macedonia's large Albanian minority.
Over the weekend, political parties were studying draft reforms submitted by EU and US envoys, Francois Leotard and James Pardew, aimed at bolstering democracy at the local level as a means of protecting minority rights.
The draft framework, prepared by a group of foreign and Macedonian experts and edited by French attorney Robert Badinter, was given to President Boris Trajkovski, as well as to other Macedonian and Albanian political leaders.
Talks between the representatives of the four main political parties in the country -- Macedonian and Albanains -- are scheduled to continue on Monday.
The progress of constitutional reforms -- a central demand of both ethnic Albanian politicians and guerillas -- is seen as key to whether or not the ceasefire holds and political dialogue can hammer out a lasting peace settlement.
The rebels have also demanded an end to alleged discrimination by the Macedonian Slav majority.
The ceasefire and the signing of a political deal is also key to the deployment of a NATO international disarmament force.
Meanwhile, Macedonia's Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said Sunday she would visit the United States on Wednesday to discuss the ceasefire with US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Returning from meetings with European Union and NATO authorities in Brussels and Luxembourg, Mitreva said the deployment of NATO troops "was necessary, as soon as possible, with a very precise mandate, to disarm."
With Pain and Hope, Bulgaria Curbs Weapons Trade.
the Washington Post
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 8, 2001; Page A19
KAZANLUK, Bulgaria -- Through the 1990s, the weapons factories of this decaying industrial town and others like it in Bulgaria churned out a broad selection of reliable, low-cost "small arms" -- AK-47s, mortars, mines -- for sale to outlaw governments and rebel armies around the world.
In 1997 and 1998, for instance, 37 flights operated by a transport airline called Air Cess left the Black Sea city of Burgas carrying Bulgarian-made military equipment, ostensibly for a legal sale to the West African nation of Togo. The weapons never got there; United Nations investigators say they ended up in Angola in the hands of the UNITA insurgent army.
Cash from such deals provided desperately needed income for a shrinking weapons industry that sought new markets, however suspect, following the collapse of communism and a variety of Soviet-bloc customers.
But today, the Bulgarian government has cracked down on arms trafficking in a major way, officials in that government and Western diplomats here say. The stinging revelations of a U.N. investigation, together with Bulgaria's desire to join NATO and the European Union, helped push it toward that economically painful step.
In the past 18 months, foreign arms sales have dropped to about $100 million a year -- a 90 percent decline from the country's peak years under communism, according to Western officials who have spoken to executives at the Bulgarian arms-trading company Kintex.
Defense workers grumble -- 1,000 here in Kazanluk have lost jobs in the last nine months alone -- and the country's struggling post-communist economy is being pinched further by the loss of income. But political leaders say they are determined to create a new image for the country and a respectable place in the world economy.
As delegates from close to 180 countries gather at the U.N. headquarters in New York this week to try to negotiate a worldwide treaty regulating trade in small arms, a key goal will be to create more cases like Bulgaria, a major producer that has weaned itself away from the illegal arms trade, according to Western diplomats.
Under communism, Bulgaria became an important maker of small arms in the Soviet bloc, supplying Warsaw Pact countries, Soviet client states in the Third World and Soviet-sponsored rebel groups. At its peak in the 1980s, the Bulgarian defense industry produced $1 billion worth of arms annually, and only 5 percent of them were for the domestic market.
Arms accounted for 10 percent of Bulgaria's total exports. The industry employed 115,000 people with another 400,000 workers dependent on it through subcontracting and supplies.
With the fall of communism, traditional arms markets collapsed too and contracts were not honored. In 1992, the country had an estimated $800 million worth of surplus arms on hand and production lines that continued to pump out light weapons.
As the industry contracted, losing 85,000 jobs over 10 years, it tried to diversify into civilian products. For instance, Arsenal, the major factory in Kazanluk, which is famous for its Kalashnikov assault rifle, began making machine tools as well.
But industry executives also looked for new places to sell the products they made best: weapons. And in a world where legitimate buyers were increasingly demanding NATO-standard equipment, that often meant selling into underground markets.
In the 1990s, Bulgarian small arms reached countries under international sanctions, such as Iraq and Libya, warring factions in the former Yugoslavia, genocidal forces in Rwanda and separatist guerrillas in West Bengal, Yemen, Angola and Sri Lanka, to name just a few illicit destinations, according to Western diplomats, U.N. investigations and human rights groups.
In another completed deal, 70 tons of Bulgarian-manufactured Kalashnikovs were parachuted to religious militants in India, according to Human Rights Watch and other international monitors. There was even an attempt to sell surface-to-air missiles to a Colombian drug cartel.
"Bulgaria has earned a reputation as an anything-goes weapons bazaar where Kalashnikov assault rifles, mortars, antitank mines, ammunition, explosives and other items are available for a price -- no matter who the buyers are or how they might use the deadly wares," wrote Human Rights Watch in a report on the trade in the 1990s.
When called to account, Bulgaria claimed it was duped by forged end-user certificates, the basic documents that validate legitimate sales. Repeatedly, Bulgarian officials argued that if weapons were diverted to a third party once they were beyond Bulgaria's borders, Bulgaria was not responsible.
"You can control the first buyer, but then you lose track," said Ivan Ivanov, the former director of Arsenal, where Kalashnikovs sell for about $120 each wholesale.
The putative Togo deal was typical of the sales in those days. The equipment never reached Togo but Bulgarian authorities later turned over to U.N. investigators a list of what was put on board the Air Cess planes. The list included: 20,000 mortar bombs, 6,300 antitank rockets, 1,000 rocket launchers, 790 assault rifles, 500 antitank launchers, 100 antiaircraft missiles and nearly 15 million rounds of ammunition.
Bulgaria had received 18 end-user certificates for the arms signed by Col. Assani Tidjani, formerly army chief of staff and later defense minister of Togo. Many were sent by express mail from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, by a man named Victor Bout, the Russian owner of Air Cess, according to the U.N. investigation. Forensic examinations later showed that the Togo end-user certificates supplied by Bout were all forgeries based on a genuine document that Togo, a supporter of the UNITA rebels in Angola, had handed over to one of UNITA's senior arms procurers, Marcelo Moises Dachala, in 1997. Investigators concluded that UNITA was almost certainly the ultimate recipient of the guns.
"The U.N. report scared . . . Bulgaria and they've cleaned up their act," said a senior Western diplomat in Sofia, the capital. "It was always a matter of political will and word going down the line that it had to stop. . . . And we have no intelligence of illegal shipments in the last 18 months."
In April, the Bulgarian government listed 20 countries under U.N. or EU embargoes to which it would not sell arms. But it has still failed to pass promised legislation tightening the processes governing arms exports.
Officials here said the country is already using the proposals in the planned law, including lengthy risk assessments of arms delivery to certain countries, stringent review of end-user certificates and verification of delivery.
"We've taken these measures as a result of this unpleasant case," said Bojidar Penchev, head of the defense industry department at the Ministry of Economy in Sofia, referring to the Togo incident. Christo Antansov, another official at the ministry, said that in the last year the new administrative checks have led the country to reject 20 arms deals valued at several million dollars in total.
But "it's not over for Bulgaria," cautioned Lisa Misol, author of the Human Rights Watch report, whose organization is also examining arms sales by the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania. "All the changes are administrative changes that are not formalized in law, and can be reversed. It still depends on the goodwill of the authorities."
In depressed Bulgarian cities that depend on the defense industry, there is still intense economic pressure to keep the factories open and the weapons flowing. And there is widespread suspicion that foreign economic interests, not any concern for peace in the Third World, are driving the local defense industry into the ground.
Kazanluk, a city of 60,000, was once a boomtown famous for guns and roses, the latter grown in the surrounding agricultural land and sold to international fragrance manufacturers. Today the central Bulgarian city has a 30 percent unemployment rate, its decaying smokestacks testament to fading industrial glory.
The criticism "was a U.S. plot to eliminate Bulgaria from the arms market," said Matei Karastoyanov, 58, who worked at Arsenal for 31 years making springs for Kalashnikovs. "Now the Americans have taken over what used to be the Bulgarian market niche. The whole policy of the U.S. was to finish off the Bulgarian defense industry in exchange for promises of NATO membership." U.S. officials deny such charges.
Kazanluk Mayor Stephan Dervishev noted bitterly, however, that the United States is the world's leading arms merchant and in the 1980s sent weapons to rebels in Nicaragua and Afghanistan.
"Our Kalashnikovs are the best in the world," he said, "but now we can only sell where we are allowed to sell."