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Macedonia Peace Talks Falter

BY Admin  July 19, 2001 at 1:05 PM EDT

Two weeks of talks and a cease-fire between ethnic Albanian rebels and the Macedonian government now appear in jeopardy. An EU spokeswoman said “political negotiations are going through difficulties.”

Macedonia’s Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski accused U.S. and EU envoys of interfering with Macedonia’s internal affairs. “What we have on the table is a document tailored to break up Macedonia,” he said.

NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana responded by postponing a trip to Macedonia’s capital for further discussions. Their joint statement referred to Georgievski’s words as “an undignified response to international efforts to assist in the search for a peaceful solution.”

The Western backed peace plan answers several concerns of ethnic Albanians, who make up about 30 percent of Macedonia’s two million people. For instance, the plan would keep Macedonian as the primary official language, but would raise Albanian to a second official language in some areas.

Key ethnic Albanian politicians refused to tear up the proposal drafts, and indicated they would not attend renewed negotiations today with Macedonian party leaders and President Boris Trajkovski.

There were also reports of bomb explosions near Skopje early today. The two-week cease-fire has been broken only by occasional shooting. Western observers say the Macedonian army and ethnic Albanian rebels, known as the National Liberation Army, have used the time to rearm and reposition forces.

The ethnic Albanian insurgency began five months ago, unsettling what had been a relatively calm area of the Balkans. Ethnic Albanians are represented in the coalition government, but the rebels have argued ethnic Albanians are treated as second-class citizens under Macedonia’s constitution.