by Lidija KUJUNDZIC
"Albanian extremists, members of the so-called National Liberation Army, have left their wounded and dead co-combatants behind; according to initial, still unconfirmed police reports, there are several hundred of them," said the president of the Democratic Alliance, Pavle Trajanov, the former Macedonian police minister. He added: "The terrorists have huge losses because they forcibly recruited men from the surrounding villages who were not prepared for battle with the army and police."
The Macedonian Army, which numbers approximately 15,000 inadequately trained and poorly equipped soldiers and 60,000 reservists, has suffered relatively small losses with the exception of the air force, which was reduced by a third a few days ago when one of its transport helicopters crashed after hitting a power main near Tetovo. The other assets of the Macedonian armed forces are slightly more than 150 armored and transport vehicles manufactured in the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. and nine river patrol boats. Since the army also includes a large percentage of Albanians, a large number of desertions is to be expected if the Albanian terrorists continue to fight even more fiercely. A split in the ranks and eventually the collapse of the Macedonian armed forces is a possibility.
Members of KFOR had even fewer casualties than the Macedonian Army. Before the Albanian terrorists arrived within arms reach of Tetovo, one KFOR soldier was lightly injured while the Germans were withdrawing from the garrison in the town center.
Unlike the Germans, who moved only a few kilometers to the southeast, Austrian and Swiss troops received orders from their governments to pack up and move to Kosovo and Metohija by way of the General Jankovic border crossing. However, the plan was partially modified after the Albanian terrorists stated on March 18 that they would take over this border crossing, too, if KFOR did not reopen the border between Macedonia and Kosovo within 24 hours.
The border with Kosovo remains closed; the terrorist threat has not been realized yet; and there are no wounded among the KFOR troops patrolling the border zone from the Kosovo side, either. Members of the American contingent of the international peacekeeping forces in Kosovo and Metohija won kudos for their arrests of Albanian terrorists. First and foremost, for their capture of four Tanusevci "commandos" whose names were not published; however, it is known that Xhavid Hasani, the organizer of terrorist activities in Macedonia, is not among them. The arrested men are mostly Albanians from Macedonia, fighters of the "disbanded" Kosovo Liberation Army, but they also include members of the Albanian "Black Cobra" special forces units, which have a training camp in Tropoja.
NATO will soon deploy additional troops along the southern border of Kosovo with Macedonia because "we firmly support the democratically elected government in Macedonia". How many new troops will be coming? George Robertson, the NATO secretary general, did not want to commit to a specific number on March 19 after a meeting with Srdjan Kerim, the Macedonian foreign minister, who stated in Brussels that Macedonia would be able to defend herself effectively when NATO stopped supplying the Albanian terrorists. The United States of America, according to State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, will not send its troops to Kosovo to assist the Macedonian army in its battle against the extremists because this is not foreseen by its mandate from the United Nations. Some other ways of helping the Macedonian government will be found.
Their conviction is so strong that Ljupco Georgijevski, the Macedonian prime minister, who is himself under fierce criticism by his political opponents for a coalition with the president of the Democratic Party of Albanians, Arben Xhaferi, was prompted to say in his address to the citizens of Macedonia on March 19:
"I will say and provide strong evidence to support that this is well-planned aggression from Kosovo. The basis for this terminology is simple. If it is admitted that this is an aggression, the entire policy of the international community in Kosovo during the past two years falls through. We are not very sorry to see this. However, the facts show that the Western democracies have created new Taliban in the midst of Europe."
Only Carl Bildt, the UN special envoy for the Balkans, had sufficient understanding of the situation in Macedonia to call the clash between "Macedonian armed forces and Albanian extremists" by its true name - war. "What else am I supposed to call it? A war is being waged in Tetovo," said Bildt who believes that the Macedonian leadership is justifiably disappointed by the response of the UN and NATO.
Italian foreign minister Lamberto Dini claims that Macedonia is the victim of terrorist activities by extremist rebel forces and recommends that the role of the KLA in these developments be examined.
However, this was before Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, rejected Georgijevski's accusations. Before the international community began to apply pressure on the Macedonian government to nevertheless begin negotiations with the Albanian terrorists.
"These are just ordinary people from western Macedonia who have had enough of Macedonian repressive policies. In their despair, they've reached for weapons. These young people, who until recently held demonstrations, have now been convinced to sacrifice their lives for a free and democratic Macedonia," said Xhaferi in an interview for the German weekly "Welt am Sonntag".
In the opinion of the DPA, the Macedonian Albanians have little in common with the Kosovo Albanians and all the Western politicians who believe that their goal is the creation of a Greater Kosovo are simply wrong.
"All our Albanians have the same goal: a change to the Macedonian Constitution, a federation in which Albanians will have the right to self-determination and the possibility of a referendum on secession," explains Xhaferi.
Incapable of finding a solution, the international community is cautiously signaling that the idea of a change to the Macedonian constitution seems acceptable. In this way, "the Macedonian problem" would have at least a superficially legal framework which would fit in with the democratic principles of the developed Western countries.
"In developed democracies, a change to the Constitution is a completely normal thing," said Carl Bildt on March 21, suggesting that it might be good for Macedonia to become a federation in which the Albanians would be guaranteed constitutional ethnic parity and their own federal unit.
However, Macedonia is not a wholly developed democratic country. The Albanians, who are an ethnic minority in Macedonia (according to official statistics, they make up about 23 percent of the total population although the Albanians claim that there are more of them), are already active participants at all levels of politics. The Macedonian deputy prime minister is Ibrahim Bederini; the deputy defense minister is Kadri Kadriu, and Elmazi is the deputy police minister. The position of director of the Macedonian Army General Staff belongs to General-Major Zehadin Tusi. The Albanians were also permitted to have their own university in Tetovo.
Two thirds of the Macedonian border [with Kosovo] is supposedly under the control of foreign troops, and well-organized Albanian terrorists with excellent connections to Albanian politicians in Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo and those living in Western Europe, the U.S. and Canada are active on half of its territory
No matter how willing the Macedonian government is to accept every form of cooperation with the international community and with the Albanians themselves, it is refusing, at least for now, to negotiate with terrorists and to initiate procedures for a change in the constitution which would lead to a reorganization of the Macedonian state. Also, no one can guarantee that the Macedonians, with their small and poorly equipped army and police, would be capable of defending themselves if their presently "peaceful" neighbors Bulgaria and Greece should decide that the time is ripe to march into eastern Macedonia and establish order there as they see fit.
Not only the survival of the Macedonian state but also peace throughout this part of Europe depends on how the Macedonian government will react in this crisis.