Albanians face further fighting despite Skopje’s sudden ceasefire

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

M.A. Shaikh

Rabi' al-Thani 09, 1422 2001-07-01


by M.A. Shaikh (World, Crescent International Vol. 30, No. 9, Rabi' al-Thani, 1422)

There were angry demonstrations in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, on June 25 as Macedonians protested that members of the Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) and other Muslims had been allowed to escape from the village of Aracinovo in the outskirts of Skopje. The Muslims left the village under the terms of an agreement brokered by the West, after three days of fighting had ended a tense 11-day stand-off. Much of the anger was targeted at Western officials, as the Macedonians felt that NATO had forced the agreement on the Macedonian government. However, the anger was clearly misdirected, as the West has clearly taken Macedonia’s side against the Muslims and the ceasefire agreement is likely to prove no more that a strategic move in the campaign against the Muslims.

The London-based Sunday Times reported on June 24 that “some British planners” have admitted that the “most practical approach [to the conflict in Macedonia] might be to trap the fighters of the Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) in the West and North of Macedonia and then let government forces pursue ‘cleaning up operations’.” The paper also quoted an officer as saying that: “We could provide intelligence and other support, like communications. It would basically turn into covert operations.”

But while NATO officers plan secretly to hasten the defeat of the NLA by government forces, NATO and European Union envoys work openly to impose on Albanian politicians in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, a “peace plan devised unilaterally by the authorities that dismissed NLA fighters as terrorists and concentrates on negotiating with leaders of the two Albanian parties in the Albanian government”.

The latest government-sponsored peace plan was sunk on June 22, when government troops launched an assault on NLA positions in the village of Aracinovo, shredding an 11-day ceasefire. The NLA had agreed to extend the ceasefire to June 27 to give the peace talks, which had begun on June 15, a chance to succeed, although it was not a party to them. The talks, which were between government officials and leaders of the two Albanian parties in the ruling coalition, centred on a peace-plan unveiled by prime minister Ljubco Georgievski that was described by NATO as a “good one”.

Yet it was the government itself that ditched the talks and resumed hostilities. The prime minister simply said: “We have reached the Red Line that Macedonia cannot cross. You cannot ask Macedonia to do something it cannot do.” Georgievski, who is the most hawkish of the Slav leaders and advocated a military solution, blamed the Albanians for the breakdown of the talks, saying that they were seeking to break up the republic. President Boris Trajkovski, who as commander-in-chief of the Macedonian forces must have ordered the new operations, also blamed the Albanians, saying that they were not flexible in their demands.

Few outside Slav political circles, however, believed government claims that it was the Albanians who had wrecked the talks by demanding a separate republic. Both the NLA and the Albanian political parties are known to be pressing for equal constitutional rights with the Slav majority, and not for secession. Even NLA fighters, who took up arms when Skopje refused to open negotiations and resorted to military operations last February, deny seeking to establish a separate state.

Yet NATO officials failed to blame the government for its one-sided decision to open hostilities, and appeared to accuse the Albanians of an attempt to “slice up” the country “along ethnic lines”. In a statement published in Brussels, NATO’s secretary-general, George Robertson, condemned the renewed fighting as “complete folly”, demanding that the “madness” stop. He added that any attempt to drag NATO into “slicing up” the country would be a recipe for disaster. Since NATO knows that the Macedonian government is not seeking to partitiion the country, and since it is on record as castigating the NLA as ‘terrorists’ bent on breaking up the country, Robertson’s statement on attempts to slice up Macedonia must be interpreted as blaming the Albanians for the breakdown of the ceasefire and of the talks.

In fact both NATO and the EU have repeatedly held the NLA responsible for the fighting since last February. At the end of May, for instance, a joint EU and NATO ministerial meeting in Budapest (Hungary) “assured the Macedonian government of support for its territorial integrity and pledged that no one would expect it to treat with the Albanian government”. At the same meeting Lord Robertson condemned the “thugs” fighting in the hills of northern Macedonia — a reference to the NLA combatants.

Robertson’s latest outrageous support for Skopje adds substance to the report in the Sunday Times to the effect that, in the view of the British members of NATO troops, the best way to defeat the NLA is to trap its fighters in the North and South of Macedonia and back government forces’ “clearing up” operations. The success of this approach would require trapping both NLA and Albanian politicians in Skopje in bogus ceasefires and peace talks that the government can breach with impunity while the Albanians are blamed for any failure of the strategy. This explains the hasty return of Javier Solana, the EU foreign affairs chief, to Skopje to revive talks.

Solana returned to the Macedonian capital on June 23 from Israel, another country which uses the strategy of false offers of peace, alternating with military operations, to continue to subjugate another Muslim people. He was in the Middle East to help to advance the so-called Middle East peace-process. He succeeded in forcing Skopje to agree to a suspension of its military operations against NLA fighters in the outskirts of the capital, and to a resumption of the negotiations. Skopje, which is clearly confident of NATO and EU support and indeed of Russia’s, is going along with Solana’s tactics, much as Israel accedes on occasion to ‘peace proposals’ by the US. To EU and NATO backing for Skopje is now added public support by Russia. President Vladimir Putin said recently that Albanian terrorists “are responsible for” the fighting in the Balkans.

In these circumstances, the ceasefire arranged by Solana is cannot be expected to last long.

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