How the UN was forced out of Macedonia

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 119 – May 11, 2001

Originally published here.

 

WHY THE UNITED NATIONS WAS IN THE WAY

 

UN warnings were ignored.

UNPREDEP’s leadership repeatedly warned that if NATO bombed Yugoslavia, they could not guarantee the lives of UN personnel just at the other side of the Yugoslav-Macedonian border. Western politicians, Scandinavians from where the UN leadership came in particular, did not understand that if their NATO allies bombed Serbia it could provoke Serb retaliation against the Extraction Force which was partly co-located with their own nationals in the UN mission!

 

The UN was impartial and fair.

UN peacekeepers respected and listened to all sides as a matter of professionalism. They did not see the world in black-and-white terms. They did not occupy territories or bomb their way through. They tried to be role models of more civilised behaviour. In today’s Kosovo, NATO troops implicitly tell the children that driving fancy armoured cars, wearing boots and battle dress and carrying guns is what works.

 

The excellent UN mission was forced out.

The UNPREDEP Mission in Macedonia was one of the best in the history of the UN. It was the most cherished example ever of preventive diplomacy. The military and civilian UN staff provided more stability than any other single actor. It was forced out by diplomatic intrigue (see next para), presumably because the United States, NATO and EU countries wanted to bomb neighbouring Yugoslavia. 

 

The intrigue that killed UNPREDEP.

Mr. Vasil Turpokovski had been a member for Macedonia of the last Yugoslav collective Presidency and afterwards lived in the United States. He suddenly went home to Macedonia’s Presidential election and promised that he could get US$ 1 000 million as a gift for Macedonia, a huge sum indeed for this poor country (and one sure to boost corruption)! Allegedly that was what Taiwan had promised in exchange for Macedonia recognising Taiwan. China had been one of the first to recognise independent Macedonia, a diplomatic victory for then President Kiro Gligorov.

Macedonia’s government at the time recognised Taiwan and China, predictably, became furious. On February 25, 1999 China vetoed a renewal of UNPREDEP’s mandate at the UN Security Council and, thus, its mandate terminated on February 28. The United States had already started threatening Milosevic with bombing in the preceding autumn.

Everyone knew that the UN could not remain in an area that might be bombed by some of the same (NATO) countries that made up the mission. The U.S. ambassador to the UN duly shed crocodile tears at China’s decision which, however, suited NATO excellently. US personnel took part for the first time ever in a peacekeeping mission in Macedonia. If the US would bomb Yugoslavia, young Americans (and other UN staff) could be killed by Yugoslav retaliation against the Extraction Force and the UN.

Today Western politicians blame China for all this. It is true that China officially argued against peacekeeping in Macedonia and in favour of peacekeeping in Africa, but the importance of the Taiwan question is only too well-known. China’s veto has been used as an argument that “humanitarian intervention” ought not be dependent on a UN Security Council mandate; that good deeds must not be prevented by a single country’s veto. But either the diplomats know the background as described here and twist the argument or they don’t know – – which is equally deplorable.

The relevant questions are: who engineered this plot to get the UN out of Macedonia by using Mr. Turpokovski’s strange promise? Or, if it was his own mad invention: why did no single government concerned about Macedonia’s future and the UN try to stop him? They must have known the perfectly predictable result of Macedonia’s recognition of Taiwan. Whatever the answer, it was extremely convenient for NATO to get rid of UNPREDEP in time for it to evacuate the last barracks a few days before NATO started bombing.

It remains only to be stated that Macedonia, of course, saw only a fraction of money promised. But NATO countries got what they wanted: the UN out, NATO in, and China sour. There are no isolated events in the Balkans; link structures and timelines and you will find that there are interesting patterns – – and few coincidences!

 

A UN mandate for both Macedonia and Serbia/Kosovo was prevented.

A mandate covering the fundamentally inter-related conflict zones of Kosovo and Macedonia would have been the right thing to pursue. But the UN wasn’t allowed to. Information I personally collected at the time gives the following at hand:

As UNPREDEP was tasked with dealing with the disputed border areas between Serbia and Macedonia, leading UNPREDEP personnel had routine meetings with Yugoslav high-level military staff. Both parties of course knew the significance of the channels and connections between Kosovo-Albanians and Macedonian Albanians and about the flow of arms and ammunition to Kosovo via Macedonian territory. There would be different possible modalities for an expansion of UNPREDEP which would enable it to be present (either on-and off or permanently), gather information and build trust on the Kosovo side of the border too.

But would Serbia permit an expansion of the UN into Kosovo? I think yes; Milosevic had accepted OSCE and other international governmental missions as well as NGOs and the United States Information Office in Kosovo and elsewhere on Yugoslav territory.

I do not know the answer from Yugoslav sources but Belgrade’s attitude must have been open since UNPREDEP felt it reasonable to raise the issue with New York. However, within 24 hours it got the red light: Kosovo was not and should not become part of UNPREDEP’s mandate. In plain language: Keep your hands off Kosovo!

I took particular interest in this hidden piece of Balkan history since years before TFF had proposed and discussed with Belgrade and Kosovo-Albanian leaders the possibility of deploying a UN mission. (See “UNTANS. Conflict-Mitigation for Kosovo. Memorandum of Understanding between the UN and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia concerning a United Nations Temporary Authority for a Negotiated Settlement in Kosovo, UNTANS”).

Today we may wonder why the excellent idea of establishing the UN where it was politically feasible and strategically most motivated remained stillborn. There are reasons to believe that it could have prevented the catastrophe of today’s “Chaosovo” and the impending one in Macedonia.

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