What will happen in Macedonia?

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 126 – September 7, 2001

Originally published here.


NATO will not leave Macedonia

NATO people emphasise that Operation Essential Harvest in Macedonia is a very limited mission; it will only be in Macedonia for one month and only to collect 3,300 weapons. It is not monitoring, it is not peace-keeping and it is not peace-enforcement. And, as we have shown in PressInfo 125 it is not a disarmament mission. It’s a “collect-not-too-many weapons” mission.

When NATO’s mission approaches its termination, there is likely to be an intensive media effort to emphasise that the KLA/NLA kept its promise and handed in 3,300 weapons. It will be heralded by NATO and the EU as a major step in the direction of peace by that side. However, following the logic of this whole affair it is a quite reasonable hypothesis that both parties will spend the time productively to acquire new weapons. Because:

a) The Macedonians and the government have no reason whatsoever to trust that NATO will help it against future KLA/NLA military activity. Western countries have threatened sanctions against Macedonia in case it defended itself too strongly and they have prevented others, e.g. Ukraine, from delivering weapons. They have supplied KLA/NLA with weapons and trained it since 1993. In addition, Western agencies and mercenary companies work with them and both in Kosovo and in Macedonia the international community has sided politically with the KLA/NLA, no matter that its spin doctors would like us to believe otherwise .

b) If 3,300 is all or most of the weapons held by the Albanian militarists, why should they disarm themselves voluntarily only to wave good-bye to the only force that they feel could protect them in the event of continued military activity by Macedonian army and police and even paramilitaries? Beyond doubt, the government sees it as its right and duty to get back the 10-15% of the country’s territories effectively controlled by KLA/NLA – one way or another.

c) Things usually do not go according to plan. The architects behind the Dayton Agreement talked about one year for IFOR as the time it would take to solve the major problems of Bosnia-Hercegovina. In Croatia, there are still enough problems and animosity to prevent nine-tenths of those chased out since 1991 from returning.


A massacre? The government side castigated

As a nuclear alliance, NATO upholds the capability to kill millions of non-NATO people – that is, if it can be done by sophisticated long-range technology. Not so when it comes to peace-keeping and risking the lives of NATO soldiers. Undoubtedly, there are NATO supporters, as well as good-hearted people in NATO-countries, who hope everything will go fine in Macedonia and NATO will withdraw on time. However, that is the least likely scenario of all.

Around the time of NATO’s stipulated departure, there could well be a major clash, a massacre à la Racak or the Merkhale Square or some other kind of major killing and cruelty. Whether staged or not, it will change the situation fundamentally. However much NATO loathes risking NATO lives, history’s strongest alliance loathes even more to look like a coward who runs away when the circumstances get hot.

One can already see the breaking news headline which would run something like: “Macedonians/government forces kill recently disarmed, defenceless Albanians, mostly civilians” – followed by world wide outrage. Step-by-step creating a situation in which Macedonia will look like a replica of Serbia under Milosevic is what the West may need to legitimate a much larger future NATO presence. The terrible event will be done by actors who see an interest in sucking in and keeping NATO in the country for, say, 30 months or years, rather than 30 days.

Perhaps we are already seeing the beginning of this image-creation. On the front page of the International Herald Tribune of September 6 we find the headline “Macedonians accused of excuting Albanians.” The story is based on a report by Human Rights Watch which analyses the terrible events around August 11-12 in Ljuboten just north of the capital Skopje. The Ministry of the Interior is accused of having killed 10 Albanian civilians as revenge for the death of 8 Macedonian soldiers. It also accuses the government side of summary executions of civilians, arson and torture.

This is what Human Rights Watch reports; on its website one finds 17 stories and reports related to Macedonia, only 3 of which focus on abuses and violence done by the KLA/NLA. Priding itself of evenhandedness, Human Rights Watch has, from time to time, functioned more or less as the extended arm of State Department. Its reports and appeals on the Balkans are pro-NATO, pro-ICTY and pro-NATO in Macedonia. Its coverage in this region, at least, is an example of how otherwise legitimate human rights concerns may serve broader, purely political purposes.

The Commander of Essential Harvest, Danish General Gunnar Lange, stated (on Danish television August 27) that there is no “Plan B” and that he has no comment on what to do if something like this happens.

Further, it remains to be seen whether KLA/NLA will simply withdraw from the occupied territories and let Macedonian forces take over control. From a Macedonian viewpoint that would be a major precondition for ratifying and implementing the so-called Peace agreement of Ohrid dated August 13. Why should it accept and implement a series of major changes in the Constitution and improvements in the status and rights of Albanians if extremist Albanians occupy parts of the country?

So, the government’s defence of Macedonia’s territory will be presented as ruthless military activity and cruelty against virtually unarmed Albanians and will be condemned by the international “community.” NATO will, sooner or later, see fit to move in with a much larger force, either negotiating its way in or bombing the government side, somewhat like in the case of Serbia. This is also the moment when the United States is likely to engage in order to show – again – who is the real conflict-manager, peace-maker (and bomber) of the world.


Simple mission creep and non-implementation of the Agreement

This will be particularly likely should a majority of the Macedonian Assembly not ratify the EU- and NATO mediated Framework Agreement of August 13. This scenario might develop somewhat like this: the dissatisfaction with both that Agreement and with NATO’s presence will grow even stronger among Macedonian people and hard-line politicians. Some NATO soldiers may be harassed and some killed. The cease-fire agreement might be violated repeatedly.

On September 6, the Macedonian backed the framework agreement in principle . The vote passed 91-19, with two abstentions, following a nearly weeklong process in which many lawmakers assailed the pact but conceded the consequences of defiance were too grave. But, the assembly was only asked whether to back the general concept of the accord: granting wider ethnic Albanian rights in exchange for rebel disarmament.

The difficult – and potentially disruptive – details come next. Lawmakers will now have to decide on the specific constitutional changes. The package is to be submitted for ratification later this month, within three days of NATO completing its mission. If these phases go well, the Agreement is to be implemented on the ground.

It is not unlikely that the new Albanian National Army, ANA, will take over most of the hard-line leadership and fight on, perhaps even attacking NATO troops. The first 5,000 NATO troops will be reinforced; it will dawn upon NATO’s leadership that NATO is caught more or less in the middle and that its arms collection mandate is too limited given that the fighting continues and there is no peace in sight. The United States will not mind at all that European allies get stuck militarily and the EU shows to the whole world that its much publicised attempt to create “stability” and its new crisis management organisation is an utter failure.


From NLA to ANA, the Albanian National Army

I would expect the political leader of KLA/NLA Mr. Ali Ahmeti to soon become a politician and probably create a party. He is on President Bush’s list of wanted Albanians and has his family in Germany, so it is quite convenient to change dress now. Since Ali Ahmeti has struck the disarmament deal with NATO, KLA/NLA may need an alibi if the war continues. Transforming into the ANA and, like earlier Balkan fashion shows, changing uniforms and emblems may be the way out. KLA/NLA would then be able to say that it had kept its promise. NATO has invested a lot in its deal with Ali Ahmeti and the KLA/NLA in spite of the fact that NATO-KFOR in Kosovo feels grossly cheated by KLA there .

NATO ambassador Pieter Feith who negotiated all the time with Ahmeti, while S-G Robertson called them “thugs,” denied them a seat at any table and said problems could not be solved by weapons, recently stated that Ahmeti is not for a division of Macedonia or a Greater Albania and that he will hand in his weapons because he has achieved his goal which is to improve Macedonia’s democracy, to create a more modern European state. (Danish Television, August 27, 2001)

This extraordinary statement reveals how deep the democratic sentiment is within NATO! NATO gives legitimacy to aggressors and militarists who fight for human rights with AK-47s and worse. And, regrettably, human rights organisations endorse this blatant misuse of the human rights cause by not protesting!

Ahmeti’s role model, thus, is probably KLA/UCK founder Hacim Thaci in Kosovo. Like him, Mr. Ahmeti, after having obtained NATO support, declared himself a man of peace; he is likely to be protected for years ahead by countries and agencies of NATO, the EU and the United States that gave him the weapons with which he so gallantly promoted democracy and human rights and European values. More about Ahmeti here http://www.realitymacedonia.org.mk/web/news_page.asp?nid=344

ANA is the new splinter group from KLA/NLA under former KPC (the “civilian” Kosovo Protection Corps) member Ramush Haradinaj who has declared that he accepts neither the weapons collection not the framework agreement. (http://www.realitymacedonia.org.mk/web/news_page.asp?nid=252 )He was Agim Ceku’s assistant and sat on the first row when KPC was trained in conflict-resolution and reconciliation, human rights, humanitarian work and fire-fighting (I know because I was one of the trainers).

So, the KLA/NLA we have known may now be for peace and more or less cease to exist. Its members will change their emblems, become ANA fighters who – naturally – have no moral or legal obligations to follow any agreement negotiated when they did not even exist!


Fighting spreads to Western Macedonia

From the Kumanovo area the war continued to Tetovo. It is likely to later move on to Gostivar and Debar. NATO’s intelligence sources know that and some of the arms collection points are in exactly these Western Macedonian areas. The geographical movement of KLA/NLA/ANA military activity must be seen as indicative of its real motive. If it is only improved human rights for Albanians in Macedonia, fighting must be expected to end completely in a few weeks, more or less simultaneously with the ratification by the government of the Ohrid agreement.

If, in contrast, war-fighting continues to the areas mentioned, it is territory rather than human rights that drives the struggle of KLA/NLA/ANA. If Macedonia is divided in two, it will imply a huge humanitarian catastrophe, the displacement and switching of hundreds of thousands of citizens both ways: Albanians toward Western Macedonia, Macedonians out of this part of the country.


An EU military presence?

The European Union aims to set up a fully-fledged intervention force of some 70.000 troops by the year 2003, able to intervene up to 6000 kilometres from Brussels. The EU would undoubtedly like to show that it is rapidly becoming a unified foreign policy and military actor.

One should not exclude, therefore, that the EU might see it fit to use Macedonia as a test rabbit for a limited EU military force acting as a “peace”-keeper. This would be a real exercise opening up also for rehearsals of limited co-ordination between NATO and EU units and functions. However, if things go sufficiently wrong, young men from EU countries may come home in body bags.

Another complication would be that EU soldiers might run into American and British citizens operating with KLA/NLA…


A comprehensive UN presence – relevant but unlikely

It is obvious that there is also a more relevant and decent scenario: within a few days, discussion begins about deploying a comprehensive UN mission to take over after NATO, in co-operation with a boosted OSCE presence. It would be a re-deployment of a larger UNPREDEP-like mission supported by a robust peace-keeping and real disarmament component.

To be effective it would be coupled with a Balkan conference on real security and defence, negotiations about reduction of force levels for all in and around Macedonia and a comprehensive disarmament and confidence-building regime. A major task force would develop a program for reconciliation, forgiveness, tolerance and the promotion of peace-oriented media and peace-education in schools and universities. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (or process) would commence at the earliest.

The confidence between various groups in Macedonia that has been undermined by the violence and international manipulations must – and can – be brought back to what it was seven months ago. Up till now we have not seen a single proposal from any international mission or organisation aimed at healing the minds and the souls of all of the citizens of Macedonia. We have not seen a single proposal aimed at building peace and reconciliation from the ground-up, with the people.

However, such a UN- and NGO-centred approach is politically completely unlikely. The UN and its Secretary-General has shown conspicuously little interest in the case of Macedonia. The US would fight against every UN presence with a military component. And any mission that would understand Macedonia’s conflicts and needs for real peace much better than the EU and NATO has done so far would be an embarrassment for-all-to-see.

If peace comes to Macedonia in the next few weeks, miracles do exist!

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