Macedonia peace: the calm before the storm?

The UCK, the Albanian faction fighting in northern Macedonia, this afternoon declared an unconditional and unlimited ceasefire, which if it holds, would be welcome news for all in Macedonia and indeed elsewhere in the Balkans. The ceasefire pledge by the Albanians could be a poisoned present: the Macedonian authorities had branded the UCK as a foreign terrorist group and therefore to now negotiate with them could be seen as a sign of weakness by the government and internally, divisions could arise. On the other hand, a failure to negotiate would give the Albanians the argument that since Skopje refuses to dialogue, they are forced to continue their fight. Whether by coincidence or not, it is remarkable that this ceasefire pledge comes immediately after the visit of Mr. Igor Ivanov to the region. Mr. Ivanov was the only world politician to have pointed out recently, quite rightly, that : “It is the ambiguity of the state of Kosovo which incentivates the rebels, who desire to create an ethnically pure entity in southern Europe”. The violence had escalated in recent days, with the Macedonian authorities calling up their reserve troops and sending armoured columns northwards into the area around Tetovo. The UCK, on the other side, exhorted all Albanians everywhere to take up arms and tried to persuade Macedonian Albanians to change sides and join the rebels. 14,000 people are reported by sources in the Balkans as having left Macedonia, most of these being Albanians. A similar situation happened in Kosovo, it will be remembered, with the prettier Albanian women fleeing from the UCK to avoid being forced into prostitution rings in western Europe. Last Sunday the Macedonian Parliament, including the Albanian political parties, approved a measure condemning the UCK and supporting any future action to be taken by the Macedonian government. Sources in Skopje this evening state that the situation is getting worse with increasing unrest in the capital and elsewhere in the country. The situation is unclear as there are unconfirmed reports that life in Tetovo is practically back to normal. As usual, only those living in the field know what is happening. It is they who suffer and see their dreams destroyed. It is they who bury their sons as the rest of the world sits back and counts the cost of weapons sold or political influence gained, the mass media flocks to the area looking for stories and people tune into their television sets hoping for a fireworks display with anonymous and distant, but human, casualties. Skopje today lives on a knife-edge between terror and hope for the future. One hopes it is the latter which prevails. If not, the rest of the world has a lot of explaining to do.

TIMOTHY BANCROFT-HINCHEY, PRAVDA.RU, LISBON

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