Amid renewed bouts of violence, government asks NATO to allow peacekeeping troops to stay on three more months
President of the Former Republic of Macedonia Boris Trajkovski, has asked NATO peacekeeping troops to extend their stay
More than three months after the Macedonian government and ethnic Albanian fighters inked an agreement that brought peace to Macedonia, the country is once again teetering on the edge of instability.
Confrontations between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanians continue to flare. International observers fear the situation could only get worse after the country’s most moderate party left the government coalition earlier this month. Three police check points in the northwest of the country were attacked by Albanian rebels during the night into Friday, according to Macedonian radio.This is also where most of the Albanian minority resides.
There were no initial reports of injuries, a rarity in recent firefights between the two sides since the peace agreement was signed on August 13. Three policeman died and two were injured in a firefight earlier in the month during which ethnic Albanian rebels briefly took 60 Slavic Macedonians hostage.
A guerilla organization calling themselves the Albanian National Army took responsibility for the violence. But Macedonian police believe the UCK, the militant Albanian group who was supposedly disbanded as part of the peace agreement, is still active. The United Nations War Crimes Tribunal has announced it is looking into alleged abuses by both rebels and security forces.
As a result of the continued instability, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski announced on Thursday that the country’s national security council has asked NATO to extend the stay of the 700-member international peacekeeping force for at least another three months. The German-led force, charged with protecting observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, was initially supposed to leave Macedonia on December 26.
The troops were initially part of a 4.000 member NATO force that collected more than 3.300 weapons handed over voluntarily by the UCK. After the first mission ended at the end of September, NATO defense ministers agreed to leave behind the smaller force to protect the 150 European representatives brought in to observe the progress of the peace accord.
But there is an increasing indication that the durability of the accord is in danger. After celebrating a brief success in mid-November, when the Macedonian parliament ratified constitutional reforms improving the status of the ethnic Albanian minority, the governing coalition was dealt a setback.
The Social Democratic Alliance, considered the most moderate party, announced it was leaving the coalition on November 20. A spokeswoman said at the time it was because they could no longer share the blame for the government’s confrontational tactics.
Observers believe the alliance’s departure could strengthen the position of the Macedonian nationalist parties, decidedly more aggressive in dealing with the ethnic Albanian minority.
The change and recent events have prompted some, including Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, to call for a larger international presence in the country. During a state visit to Germany this week, Djindjic described Macedonia as the most unstable place in the Balkans at the moment.
"We hope that Macedonia finds its way back to normality," Djindjic said in Dresden.