|PERSPECTIVE FROM MACEDONIA|
April 7, 1999
Macedonia has been criticized for transporting thousands of displaced Kosovars to neighboring countries without the knowledge of international aid agencies. Margaret Warner talks with Macedonian Ambassador to the U.S. Ljubica Acevska about the war in the Balkans and its effects on Macedonia.
MARGARET WARNER: In Washington today the Clinton administration expressed concern about the Macedonian government's handling of the refugees. Here's what State Department Spokesman James Rubin had to say at today's briefing.
JAMES RUBIN, State Department Spokesman: We recognize the difficulty that Macedonia is facing; however, we have sent a strong message to the government of Macedonia that we will hold it to the highest standard of humanitarian law and expect it to uphold internationally accepted laws in the treatment of refugees and evacuation procedures. They indicate that they're overwhelmed by this burden; they're concerned about the stability of their country.
REPORTER: Jamie, NBC has pictures of people from Blace, Macedonia, from this large camp that was emptied overnight, that are being rounded up today. There are some evidently that hid or -- or have come across the border and are now being rounded up by Macedonia. We don't know whether they're army or policy. Do you have any idea from the Macedonians where they plan on taking these people?
JAMES RUBIN: Well, I don't have any specific information on that particular incident. We do expect the Macedonian government to live up to the standards of international law and to not forcibly seek to remove people and to not separate family members.
WARNER: Joining us now is Macedonia's Ambassador to the United States,
Welcome, Madam Ambassador.
LJUBICA ACEVSKA, Ambassador, Macedonia: Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: Can you tell us what's happened to these tens of thousands of refugees that were moved out of that no-man's land, that field we just saw?
LJUBICA ACEVSKA: Well, about -- over 60,000 have been placed in camps which, which were set up by NATO. Also, we have over 60,000, which are in private homes, around 9,000 were sent over to Albania. Turkey has taken about 2,000 and also Germany and Norway have taken around a few hundred each.
MARGARET WARNER: But the 60,000 that were in this field, the UNHCR, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, is still saying today that some 30,000 they can't account for.
LJUBICA ACEVSKA: Well, you know, again, that is a very large number, and we tried -- as it was stated in your report -- the reporter's piece -- that now at least that the conditions are better. Our focus was to always provide good conditions, and we wanted to place them in camps, so there could be better facilities for them, food, medical assistance, and we certainly are keeping track of where everybody is going.
MARGARET WARNER: But you want most of those ultimately flown out of Macedonia?
LJUBICA ACEVSKA: No. I mean, look, it's not that we want them flown out. The day of the bombing, when the bombing started two weeks ago, my foreign minister sent a letter to his colleagues asking for, No. 1, humanitarian assistance, also stating that we can accommodate only 20,000. We did not receive any kind of assistance for a week. When the number reached 50,000, that's when the international community started providing food. Also, last Saturday, when we temporarily closed the border, you know, it was a desperate act on our part to get the attention of the international community, get them to shock the international community into doing something, so this criticism is really not fair. Also, the criticism of the State Department is not fair. I mean, first of all, we are providing all humanitarian assistance to their refugees, and we will certainly do that, but it's also a responsibility of the international community to help us with that. You know, we have been asking that from day one.
|A few criticisms|
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about a few criticisms, speaking of criticism, that came from UNHCR today, and reporters have confirmed this also, that some families were split up and that many were flown out of the country not knowing where they were going and even when they didn't want to be taken out.
LJUBICA ACEVSKA: You know, again, we try to be as accommodating as possible. There was the opportunity -- you know, we were careful not to split up families, but you can also -- I mean, certainly we do understand the position of the refugees after being -- after, first of all, being kicked out of their homes and being there on the border without the proper attention for a long time, and to be taken somewhere, it must have been very frightening for them. We understand that, but our goal was to take them to a place where they would have shelter, where they would have food, where they would have medical attention. That has been our goal, you know. We want to do everything we possibly can.
MARGARET WARNER: Why has it been impossible, or why has your government been reluctant to really just process all the refugees and let them stay in NATO-run camps right near Kosovo as, for instance, has happened in Albania? And I think they've had something like 300,000 refugees.
LJUBICA ACEVSKA: But NATO did not start setting up those camps until a few days ago. And the refugees have been there for two weeks. You know, they were not, although we asked for assistance, I reiterate, we were not receiving the assistance, and it took NATO -- even though it was supposed to be 24 hours that they were supposed to set those up, it took longer than 24 hours to set them up.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, is it -- how much of a factor is a factor that a lot of the relief workers say, which is that Macedonia doesn't want any more ethnic Albanians, that you already have a quarter of your population roughly ethnic Albanian and you really don't want additional large numbers?
LJUBICA ACEVSKA: I mean, you know, first of all, the refugees --I'm sure the refugees do not want to be in Macedonia; they are forced to leave, and I'm sure that everybody would like to go back to their homes. I would also like to point out since our independence, one of our goals has been to work on establishing good relations between the different ethnic groups, and we have been successful in that. Our government has been pro-western government. We have made a lot of progress. Also, the Albanian party has always been part of the government. Even now, the government is composed of two Macedonian parties and one Albanian party. So we have -- there are good relations between the ethnic groups. And, you know, that's also -- I don't think that's a good -- it's not a criticism -- it's a criticism which we have been hearing but, again, it's really not fair.
MARGARET WARNER: So bottom line, how many of the -- I think it's some 140,000 who have all come to Macedonia --
LJUBICA ACEVSKA: Right.
MARGARET WARNER: -- are you willing to let stay until the Kosovo crisis is resolved?
LJUBICA ACEVSKA: Well, you know, again, we have said that we can provide comfortably for 20,000. We are letting them stay there. We will let as many stay there as possible, but again, this is a burden which should be shared by the international community. We would like to have everybody stay, but we cannot provide for everyone. And, again, the focus should be on providing immediate relief for the refugees.
MARGARET WARNER: And if additional refugees appear at your border crossings, will you admit them or will you turn them back into Kosovo?
LJUBICA ACEVSKA: No, we will admit them. Of course the border is open. Again, these incidences which you see from some policemen turning them in, again, returning them, those are individual acts. You know, they are not the policies of the government. If they were the policies of the government, nobody would have gotten in. But, you know, these are individual acts, and the government should not be judged by that.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Well, stay right there, if you will.